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July 30 2012

14:00

The Fundamental Problem With Political Cookies, Microtargeting

The MIT Technology Review recently posted an article titled, "Campaigns to Track Voters with 'Political Cookies." It freaks me out for a reason I'll get to below.

From Technology Review:

The technology involves matching a person's web identity with information gathered about that person offline, including his or her party registration, voting history, charitable donations, address, age, and even hobbies.

Companies selling political targeting services say "microtargeting" of campaign advertising will make it less expensive, more up to the minute, and possibly less intrusive. But critics say there's a downside to political ads that combine offline and online data. "These are not your mom and pop TV ads. These are ads increasingly designed for you--to tell you what you may want to hear," says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

funny-pictures-cat-wishes-to-access-your-cookies.jpg

Like most conscientious web users, I'm skeeved by the privacy issues of cookies, even as I tolerate them for their convenience.

But the real, immediate, permanent harm of political cookies, like Chester argues, is the other kind of privacy: the privacy it affords you to avoid public discussion, the (otherwise positive) right to be left alone.

Targeted ads bypass the public. They needn't be subject to civic debate. In fact, they foreclose the very possibility. With political cookies, civic debate about those messages can only happen within the subject's own head.

When MIT Center for Civic Media's own Matt Stempeck and Dan Schultz proposed projects like a recommended daily intake for the news, a credibility API, or automatic bullshit detectors, they're doing a great service but not necessarily a public service. Their work implicitly acknowledges -- and they're right -- that a political message is now predominantly a direct communications experience, from a campaign directly to an individual subject.

toward private politics

It's a private experience. Democracy without the demos. By definition and design, there's no public counterpoint to an ad targeted with cookies.

The earliest examples of American democracy took for granted that debate was public, happening among many individuals and associations of them. And a core logic, without which the rest fails, is that people are persuadable. Campaigns would love to persuade, but it's cheaper to reinforce. And reinforcement happens by aggregating individuals' click and spending data, with targeting taking into account predispositions, self-identification, and biases.

There's no need to persuade. No need, it feels, to be persuaded. No need to live outside our own private politics.

A version of this post originally appeared on the MIT Center for Civic Media blog.

Andrew Whitacre is Communications Director for the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, 2007 Knight News Challenge winner. A native of the nation's capital, Whitacre has written on communications policy issues, starting with work on satellite radio as a student at Wake Forest University.

October 25 2010

23:02

Special Series: PoliticalShift 2010

About this Series

After the success we've had with previous in-depth reports -- the Beyond Content Farms series and Beyond J-School, we decided to do another series on MediaShift. This time the series will look at "PoliticalShift 2010," the way that social media, technology and blogs are changing the equation for politicians in the context of the 2010 U.S. midterm elections. While Barack Obama used the web and social media to raise millions in micro-donations and for organizing, the conservative side is pushing even harder into social media to rally supporters this year. We'll look at the Tea Party's crash course in social media, a Canadian industry minister's quirky use of Twitter, and we'll have a roundtable discussion in San Francisco for 5Across.

The entire series is linked below, and we'll be updating it over the next 8 days.

Check Out All the Posts

> GOP Beating Democrats with Social Media for Midterm Elections by Anthony Calabrese

Coming Soon

Tuesday: Steven Davy on campaigns using geo-location tools
Wednesday: Craig Silverman on the Canadian industry minister using Twitter

Thursday: Corbin Hiar on the Tea Party's use of social media

Friday: 5Across roundtable discussion with politicians, activists and journalists

Monday: Julie Posetti on how political reporters' jobs are changing in Australia
Tuesday: Live online chat with special guests via CoverItLive

Your Feedback

What do you think about our series? How could it be improved? Are there other series you'd like to see MediaShift tackle in the coming months? We'd like to hear from you either in the comments below or via our Feedback form.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

November 23 2009

16:11

Net2 Think Tank Round-Up: Saying Thanks

net2 think tankNovember isn't over yet so there is still time to participate in NTEN's Member Appreciation Month activities and Epic Change's TweetsGiving campaign is this Tuesday-Thursday.  But, those aren't the only ways to say, "thanks."  At this time of year many organizations send messages of thanks to donors, supporters, volunteers, and their wider community.  In this month's

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