Do you watch college football? Listen to smooth jazz? Search the Internet for guidance about parenting, spirituality or a health concern? Look at pornography sites online?

Do you like the fact that political strategists with the presidential campaigns know the answers to each of those questions?

It’s disturbing, but they do.

The architects behind this year’s presidential campaigns know far more about voters than ever before, thanks to the increasingly precise science of data mining. There are companies that compile and study a wealth of details about your personal life, from the type of beer you like to drink to whether you paid your bills on time last month.

Some of those companies, like Rapleaf or Intelius, have been sued for alleged privacy violations. That hasn’t stopped political strategists from buying their data.

It’s deeply creepy that the campaigns know so much about individuals’ lives, and they know it.


Data mining at this level carries terrible privacy concerns, and the campaigns need to be cautious.

There needs to be a set of standards for mining behavior — and it would be best if a neutral third party that specializes in governance, such as Common Cause or an expert panel at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, developed it. The standards would need to be developed in conjunction with future political campaigns, but some restrictions — such as no compilation of individual users’ Internet data or financial records — seem like common sense.

We urge both political parties to abide by these restrictions right now, even though no standards have been developed. It’s one thing to urge voters to go to the polls. It’s altogether another thing to violate their privacy while doing it.

— San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 16

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