Yesterday an organization called B-PAC spent $125,000 in one pop in an effort to cripple the re-election of U.S Senator Scott Brown.
The $125,000 was spent, says the brief filing submitted to the FEC, to buy “web ads; also support Scott Brown”? “Web ads; also support Scott Brown?” What does that mean?
It’s telling that the organization that took the payment from B-PAC is referred to as “Cambridge Analytica”, rather than “Cambridge Advertising”. Online advertising these days is at least as much about data collection as it is about message projection. Cambridge Analytica is a subsidiary of a British company that offers “specialist data analytics” to identify “targeted audience groups.”
Now, I can’t tell you for sure what Cambridge Analytica it is up to on behalf of B-PAC, because, while private companies like Cambridge Analytica are allowed to grab untold amounts of private information about American citizen, the law does not require organizations like Cambridge Analytica and B-PAC about the details of their own efforts to manipulate U.S. elections. The placement of online advertisements by a data analytics firm, however, is highly suggestive.
The behavior of the Scott Brown For Senate campaign, which B-PAC is dedicated to support, also suggests the growth of a political culture that is highly involved in big data surveillance of voters. One of the great advantages of using anti-tracking software from Ghostery is that it shows the tools of surreptitious data collection that are secretly embedded within any given web site.
The official Scott Brown for Senate campaign web site is using, at present, 12 different detectable plugins in order to gather information, without permission, about voters who visit the site. The Casale Media plugin, for example, uses scottbrown.com to grab demographics and IP address information which, when combined, can be used to identify visitors by name, and then track their activities on other web sites. Casale Media refuses to disclose what other companies it shares this information with once it has been seized.
The company behind the Turn plugin admits that it shares data gathered at Scott Brown’s official campaign web site with third parties, though it doesn’t name names. Resonate Network, another of Scott Brown’s online spying plugins, claims the right to keep and use data on the visitors to the Brown for Senate web site for over five years.
Scott Brown is counting on voters not to notice that his campaign web site is spying on voters in this way. It’s up to us voters who have noticed, therefore, to spread the word of this untrustworthy behavior.