Tactical Tech’s Data & Politics Team is excited to announce that the Swedish Postcode Foundation will support our latest initiative to create transparency on the use of personal data in political campaigns and the surrounding influence industry.
Since 2016, our team has investigated how political groups use data-driven technologies to try to increase the precision, speed and scale of their public campaigns. We discovered an influence industry that is varied, pervasive, and has global reach. For instance, Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign collected data on people’s reactions to thousands of different messages and images, consequently increasing their number of followers and pulling in a further US$30 million in donations. Personality profiles on voters were sold to political parties from the private firm Cambridge Analytica, one of over 300 private companies we documented working in the area. Mobile phone apps have been used by political campaigns and interest groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the US, Presidential Candidate Rodolfo Piza Rocafort in Costa Rica and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India. Meanwhile, SMS remains a core campaigning technique in Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, where phone numbers of millions of people are gathered through illicit methods.
These are only a few examples of the methods involved in the global influence industry that the team has uncovered. As we’ve continued our work, we’ve been glad to see more interest from journalists, election monitors and legislators. Even with this increasing scrutiny, new data-driven techniques appear, loopholes exist in legislation and practitioners consistently adapt to side-step laws. For example, recent research conducted by our project partner shows how political parties in Ukraine use companies outside of the country to buy Facebook Ads to bypass the legal restrictions on who can pay for political advertisements.
At the centre of Tactical Tech’s approach is the belief that to respond to a political system, people need to understand it. Not only will a more nuanced understanding shed a more critical light on the technologies themselves, but also on the wider social structure in which these technologies are embedded. Understanding how these tools work can allow us to evaluate their consequences for elections, voters and democracy. Consequently, we can increase our agency over our reactions to political content and make more informed political decisions. We want to motivate and enable the public and civil society to ask meaningful and critical questions when they engage with politics.
We are excited that The Swedish Postcode Foundation has decided to support our approach. Marie Dahllöf, the Secretary General of the Swedish Postcode Foundation has said:
“Faith in our political processes is a foundation for democracy. We are therefore proud to support The Tactical Technology Collective in their work to increase public awareness of how personal information is used in political campaigns, knowledge that can be crucial for voters to make informed choices and thus strengthen democracy.”
In this new project, the team will continue to research and identify data-driven campaigning practices and connect them to their potential consequences for political participation. We will make available clear and meaningful information on these topics. In doing so, we hope to increase transparency of political campaigns using data-driven technologies, support voters in making informed political choices and help civil society meaningfully participate in the new environment these data-driven technologies create.
We will continue our research investigating the companies at the heart of digital political influencing. We will turn our research into resources for journalists, monitoring groups and others who hold politicians to account. And we want to make sure that this information is in the hands of those whom data-driven elections effect the most: the voters. We will work with community groups and digital literacy programs to expand on our voter’s guide and other resources for voters to understand how political campaigns use their personal data.
Later in the year we will be reaching out to work with partners. For further information, please get in touch at https://ourdataourselves.tacticaltech.org/contact/
Amber Macintyre. Thank you to the data and politics team for their feedback. 4th February 2020.