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Posted on November 2, 2018

Study Shows Political Candidates Use Privacy-Invading Technology

It’s common practice for advertisers to track and target you, but what are political candidates doing with your data? We decided to find out.

As we approach the 2018 midterms, many Americans are feeling concerned about election security. Although disputes over elections isn’t new, the most recent series of election investigations has caused additional uncertainty. For example, the Mueller investigation about Russian involvement in the Trump campaign was particularly high profile. The Mueller investigation, combined with a series of privacy breaches from trusted companies like Facebook, have contributed to increased election uncertainty.

Here at TrackOFF, our mission is to empower people to reclaim control of their data by building tools to protect people’s identities and personal lives. To that end, we conducted a study in September 2018 to determine the level of website tracking technology being used by candidates running for Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. The goal was to find out how tracking techniques were being used to influence voters.

Our hypothesis? Despite recent heightened scrutiny and Congressional inquiry into online tracking methods, we guessed that candidates rely on privacy-invading technology to improve their chances of victory. Turns out, we were right.

Using a random sampling of candidates from thirty-five states and deploying TrackOFF’s software (corroborated manually), we found that 95% of candidates analyzed are currently using tracking technology on their websites.

Findings: political candidates use hidden tracking technology

Over all, we found that 95% of candidates analyzed are currently using tracking technology on their websites. Here’s how it breaks down.

  • 84% of politicians surveyed are using Google Analytics
  • 42% of politicians are using Facebook’s tracking technology
  • 95% of candidates running for the U.S. Senate are using tracking technology

The majority of the politicians’ websites we surveyed are using fingerprinting technology designed by Facebook and Google — companies that have been known to inappropriately share user data with third parties. Ironically, many of these politicians have been vocal critics of these tech companies and their data collection processes. Digital fingerprinting technology used in this fashion can bring ads that follow you all over the internet. But even worse, this tech can leave trackers embedded in your devices and browsers that can collect gratuitous amounts of private data about you. The problem is compounded because the apps and companies involved in collecting this data have very little oversight, which often leads to your data being sold to the highest bidder. And in the case of social media ads, often times that buyer might be the politician themselves.

Technology offers consumers a choice

This means that most people are vulnerable to data collection and tracking from just about anyone—and all of the problems that come with it. By collecting your data, trackers can sell your information, target you with ads, or even steal your identity. In fact, according to the 2017 Data Breach report from The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), data breaches are on the rise. The report found 14.2 million credit card numbers and nearly 158 million social security numbers were breached, and an overall 44.7% increase in data breaches from last year.

This means that without protection, anyone’s personal information is up for grabs.

Fortunately, educated consumers have a choice to opt-out of being tracked and targeted by using technology. Not only can technology prevent online tracking, but it gives choice and transparency back to individual consumers.

The TrackOFF privacy web browser offers well-rounded protection for Android and iOS. You can use it to browse the web with an extra layer of privacy protection, and reclaim ownership of your personal information. As you browse, the application will run in the background to hide your tracks, and give you full transparency by telling you which websites attempted to track you. Download it here. You can also see our full suite of desktop protection here.

 

Sources:

The Guardian: Mueller charges 13 Russians with interfering in US election to help Trump, February, 2018

Journal of Economic Perspectives: Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election, by Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow, Spring 2017

Wired Magazine: The 10 Biggest Data Breaches of 2018… So Far, June 27, 2018

Wall Street Journal: Facebook believes spammers were behind its massive data breach, by Richard Lawler, October 18, 2018

The Guardian: ‘It might work too well’: the dark art of political advertising online, by Julia Carrie Wong, March 19, 2018

TrackOFF blog:  What is my digital fingerprint? By Ryan Flach, October 9, 2017

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