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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.

September 29 2010

10:32

September 16 2010

12:02

August 04 2010

15:12

US source protection bill amended to exclude WikiLeaks

The furore surrounding WikiLeaks continues this week, as US Senators reportedly working on a “media-shields” legislation to protect journalists from revealing sources are making amendments to ensure no such protection can be afforded to the whistleblowing site.

According to a report by the NYTimes.com, senators Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein are drafting the amendment to outline that the bill’s protections would “extend only to traditional news-gathering activities and not to websites that serve as a conduit for the mass dissemination of secret documents”.

Quoting Schumer in a statement he claims the amendments will ensure there is no chance of the law ever being used to protect websites like WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks should not be spared in any way from the fullest prosecution possible under the law. Our bill already includes safeguards when a leak impacts national security, and it would never grant protection to a website like this one, but we will take this extra step to remove even a scintilla of doubt.

According to the NYTimes.com report, the new bill would require a person to “exhaust all other means” of getting the names they desire before they could take a journalist to court. But they add the amendment may be unecessary due to the method by which the website sources and stores its information.

According to WikiLeaks, the website uses a technology which makes it impossible to trace the source of documents that are submitted to it. So even if the organisation were compelled to disclose a source, it is not clear that it would be able to do so

See the full report here…

Also in WikiLeaks news, the Washington Post reports that the Broadcasting Board of Governors have ordered that the Voice of America “may proceed with reporting on the disclosure of classified documents”. This follows claims that IT personnel at the International Broadcasting Bureau told VOA journalists not to read or email the material on government computers.

The matter was added to the agenda at Friday’s gathering of the new board, which passed a unanimous resolution in closed session that “authorized the Director of the Voice of America to proceed with reporting on the disclosure of classified documents available on the WikiLeaks website in a manner that is consistent with the VOA Charter and the BBG’s statutory mission, and to balance this effort with due consideration for the laws and executive orders” on using classified information.

See the full post here…Similar Posts:



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