Strategists affiliated with the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney say they have access to information about the personal lives of voters at a scale never before imagined. And they are using that data to try to influence voting habits - in effect, to train voters to go to the polls through subtle cues, rewards and threats in a manner akin to the marketing efforts of credit card companies and big-box retailers.
In the weeks before election day, millions of voters will hear from callers with surprisingly detailed knowledge of their lives. These callers - friends of friends or long-lost work colleagues - will identify themselves as volunteers for the campaigns or independent political groups.
The callers will be guided by scripts and call lists compiled by people - or computers - with access to details like whether voters may have visited pornography websites, have homes in foreclosure, are more prone to drink Michelob Ultra than Corona, or have gay friends or enjoy expensive vacations...
The campaigns know about your shopping patterns, gambling habits, dating preferences, financial status, whether you'd be more swayed to vote by a phone call from a cousin or a friend, and much more. According to the story, the campaigns have paid over $13 million to companies such as Acxiom, Experian, and Equifax—"which are currently subjects of congressional scrutiny over privacy concerns"—to data-mine potential voters.
This should slam home the notion of how much data is already out there, collected, categorized, and available to businesses with enough money or government agencies with enough legal leverage.
Both parties are also planning to use Facebook and email for public shaming campaigns against people who have not voted frequently in the past. That's not the most pernicious thing in the world—even if it is a form of mild blackmail—but take it to its logical extension ("do what we say or we'll post your most embarrassing habits on Facebook") and it gets a little creepy. And the candidates know it:
Even as campaigns embrace this ability to know so much more about voters, they recognize the risks associated with intruding into the lives of people who have long expected that the privacy of the voting booth extends to their homes. "You don't want your analytical efforts to be obvious because voters get creeped out," said a Romney campaign official. "A lot of what we're doing is behind the scenes."
Being seen—being famous—used to be considered a privilege. Now Banksy's old formulation, flipping Andy Warhol, sounds truer: "In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes." And that will be the privileged state.