Vote early, vote often, but don’t vote via social networks

Votizen lets you endorse the candidates of your choice and connect with others across the Web who share your beliefs. That's not necessarily a winning strategy.

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Of course, many people already wear their politics on their sleeves. They volunteer for campaigns, they go door to door, they get in arguments with the other side in a gazillion different comment forums online. So what’s the big deal?

Put up a lawn sign or slap a bumper sticker on your car, and your neighbors know where you stand (and may cut you off in traffic), but that’s where it ends. Put your endorsement on Facebook or a site like Votizen, and not only do thousands of strangers know where you stand on an issue or candidate, that data could be searched, harvested, and used against you.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 mandated that every state maintain a database of registered voters. The idea was to prevent dead people and house pets from voting (if only by proxy) by matching names of registered voters against other government databases, such as DMV or Social Security records. But what resulted was a big opportunity for data miners to make money from people performing their civic duties.

Companies like Aristotle make big bucks selling databases of registered and likely voters to political organizations, who use them for fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts. But Aristotle doesn’t stop at the bare-bones information listed in most voter registration databases – name, address, party affiliation, when and where you last voted. It also can append the files with the following bits of data gleaned largely from other public records databases. 

  • Age & Birthdate
  • Race & Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Party Affiliation
  • Lifestyle Choices
  • Education & Wealth Level
  • Family & Children
  • Donors to Political, Arts, Welfare
  • Marital Status
  • Hunting & Fishing
  • Super Voters
  • Registration Date
  • Business Owner
  • Own vs. Rent
  • Emails

 

Say you want a list of all registered Democrats who voted in the last election, own their own homes, are married, like to hunt or fish, make a certain amount of money, and live within a particular ZIP code. Aristotle can sell you a list of names that meet those criteria for 3 cents per voter, provided you can prove you’re requesting the data for “valid political use.”

What’s to keep Aristotle or some other company like it from scraping your public endorsements of candidates off sites like Votizen and adding them to your profile?

I asked Votizen co-founder Jason Putorti. His response, in part:

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