Online Targeted Political Ads and the White House: Will the Candidates Protect our Privacy?

Yahoo!, Google, and even “adver-gaming” types are lining up to “connect candidates with potential voters,” notes a story today in the Washington Post [“Online Firms Boot Up for Political Campaigns.” reg. required]. Google and others sponsored an event organized by the George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet.

We believe the evolution of political advertising to embrace the online mediums of broadband PC, mobile devices, and interactive television raises a series of fundamental concerns. First, candidates should not be given or collect the vast amounts of personal information about us that Yahoo!, Google, AOL and everyone else routinely collects. Candidates should not allow “cookies” to be placed on our computers which relate to their campaigns—without prior informed consent. There is a treasure trove of data that can help candidates target their messages. But we believe without informed and prior consent, the voting public is at risk in having personal and other data be used by candidates in a manipulative and unfair way.

Two, candidates require free access to all platforms. We run the risk of migrating the current “it takes big money to make a real impact” system we have with broadcasting to the digital realm. Gatekeepers—such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, Google and Yahoo!—will be able to charge premium prices. We want new media to fix the problems we have with today’s system, where the requirements of having to raise vast sums of money ultimately empowers the permanent elite interest class.

The presidential campaign should be a litmus test on the candidates and personal privacy online. Reform advocates should also begin calling for “free time” to all the new online media distribution system. As the campaign progresses, this blog will not only follow the money, but the data sales as well.

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