DemLabs blog

Collecting and selling personal data to businesses is a big industry. Political campaigns are increasingly using the same data. 

Campaigns rely heavily on voter files for targeting. Many are now incorporating the extensive consumer data available to improve their results. What data is available? Who are the data brokers? How is consumer data combined with the voter file? What are the security risks?

"Every breath you take. And every move you make. Every step you take.
And every word you say. Every single day. I'll be watching you.
Oh, can't you see. You belong to me." 

Sting could just as well have been describing personal data brokers. These huge firms collect and sell details on every purchase you make, your movements, what you read and a lot more. The data is cataloged to create individual profiles along with a person's preferences and triggers. Businesses use these insights to adapt and sell their products. Campaigns use it to refine their messaging and sell their candidate. Welcome to the Brave New World!

Let's research two cities to see what data is available on their residents to determine which issue would appeal better to them - tax cuts or safe drinking water? We'll consider Palm Beach, Florida (home of Mar-a-Lago) and Newark, New Jersey (scene of water lead poisoning). esri Tapestry Segmentation provides these insights free of charge. Try it anonymously with your own Zip Code to learn about your community.

Much of the content in this blog is from "Personal Data: Political Persuasion. Inside the Influence Industry. How it works". Tactical Tech is an international NGO that engages with citizens and civil-society organizations to explore and mitigate the impacts of technology on society.

Everything from your TV watching habits, the publications you read, your movements, your social media interactions, donations to charity, to your beliefs is collected. Source: Experian.

Schematic: Experian ConsumerView (sm).









What consumer data is collected?

Information brokers analyze billions of consumer data points from financial services like banks and credit agencies, mobile operator networks, 'smart devices', media outlets, publishing houses, and retailers. Spotify, for example, not only sells data about its users’ listening habits but also insights into its users’ moods and their locations. AcxiomEpsilon and Experian are three of the largest data providers.


Experian ConsumerView(SM) is a large comprehensive resource with thousands of attributes on more than 300 million consumers and 126 million households. This includes insights such as:
Age, education, gender, family size, Marital status, Homeowner/renter, occupation, ethnic group, country of origin, language spoken, religion, car driven, lifestyle and interests...
Political campaigns use such consumer data to analyze, segment, target and evaluate voters. People are segmented into profiles based on demographics, behavioral and psychographic data.

Sample profiles from Experian

Voter Files
"Voter files are profiles of individual voters collected in databases for political campaigns. In its most basic form, a voter file is a list of people who could potentially vote in a given election. This data can also be combined with more detailed information, like party affiliation or registration history. Voter files typically consist of publicly accessible information combined with more detailed data acquired from outside sources and polling.

This supplementary data helps campaigns better understand demographic patterns and the voting habits  of individuals. Additional data points can be used to create  granular, personalized profiles, which are useful in a campaign’s  predictive analysis. This includes tracking a voter’s past turnout and party affiliation to index their sentiment and even utilizing relevant financial data such as credit reports, consumer data and other socio-economic indicators. The additional information  also helps political campaigns tailor messaging to voters’ individual interests." - Tactical Tech.

Political / consumer data resources
These firms enrich the voter file data with consumer data for campaigns. Some of the major vendors include:
TargetSmart provides voter data for Democrats and Progressives. Clients leverage its advanced analytics, custom maps, list-building, and targeting for fundraising, issue advocacy, political research, voter contact, and voter registration.
L2 is a private, non-partisan business that offers  190 Million voter records with voting demographics that are filtered against the national change of address (NCOA) database and deceased voter lists.
i360 advertises a database of 290 million American consumers and over 700 unique data points, sourced from ‘voter data from every state and multi-source lifestyle and consumer data from top tier providers’. The Koch brothers are major investors.
Advocacy Data advertises its ability to match a campaign’s existing data to consumer data ranging from group memberships, such as gun owners or military veterans, to magazine subscriptions, to financial status and more.
Catalist provides data and related services to progressive organizations.
Aristotle provides datasets ‘complete with donor history, demographics and lifestyle information.
HaystaqDNA  support campaigns need to use their voter file data along with custom turnout scores, candidate support, issue scores, and fundraising scores.

Example of voter profile data. Image: HayStaqDNA

Security concerns
1. Data misuse
"Emma’s Diary is British website that provides ‘baby & pregnancy advice for mums to be'. It was fined by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for breaching data protection laws by collecting and selling consumer data to the Labour Party, by way of a data supply agreement with Experian. Names of parents, addresses, number of children per household, dates of birth: the website collected and sold over one million records build a database for targeted campaign outreach." - Tactical Tech.


2. Data theft
Both consumer and voter file data can be hacked. Two high-profile cases include the data breach at the Equifax credit reporting agency, which exposed the personal financial data of 143 million US consumers and the hacking of Yahoo’s customer records, affecting over 1 billion users.
"In October 2018, two cybercrime intelligence research firms reported that an estimated 35 million US voter registration details were being offered for sale on a known dark web hacking forum. The data trove consisted of up-to-date 2018 voter registrations for at least 19 states. While the voter files of these states are considered to be ‘public’ and available for sale, most states limit access to authorized entities, such as campaigns or researchers, and are barred from being republished." - Anomali

Image from hacker forum Oct 5, 2018 : Anomali

Take away
"The times they are a-changin'. Then you better start swimmin'. Or you'll sink like a stone." 
Bob Dylan

Don't get leapfrogged by the competition with superior technology and better data. Learn how to run smarter campaigns by enhancing voter files with consumer data and keeping your campaign data files secure!

Co-Founder, DemLabs

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