Personal data: political persuasion

Project image

What happens when the techniques of the marketing industry become the tools that influence our democracy?

This research sheds light on the global business built around using data for political influence so that voters, policy makers, political partners and technology companies can develop informed opinions and decisions about the relationship between personal data and politics in the future.

An entire sector is built around the acquisition and use of personal data for political campaigns. In order to understand what this means for our democracies, now and in the future, we first need to understand who is part of this industry and what tools they are using.

With this new research, in the format of a guide (printer-friendly version here) and a visual gallery, Tactical Tech identify over 300 of the companies who offer their services to political parties, and give an in depth guide to thirteen of the key methods that are used to target and influence voters.

What’s for sale?

(Full Visual Gallery)

We found over 300 companies around the world who use data to give political parties insights into who voters are, what they want to hear and how to persuade them. You can watch the 15 minute visual gallery here:

Upon doing a deep dive into their websites, we found a range of companies, consultancies, agencies and marketing firms, from local start-ups to global strategists, targeting parties that span the political spectrum.

This virtual, visual gallery captures the promises of these companies, giving a unique window into the services they promote and the compelling language they use, phrases like “we power democracy”, “emotions driven by data”, “changing the world one pixel at a time” and “winning elections with social intelligence”.

Mostly for-profit, these companies and data brokers use the tools of the marketing industry to help political parties sway votes. It is a lucrative business, and as these techniques become more commonplace and affordable, they will be used by a wider variety of political entities and influencers.

How it works

A deep dive into data-driven campaigning, uncovering the tools that are used to understand, target and influence voters around the world. Click on the image to download the guide:

From Geo-targeting in Guyana to A/B Testing in the UK; from Third Party Tracking in Colombia to Campaign Apps in India; there are dozens of methods being used to sway citizens’ political views by leveraging the data they give away.

Going beyond the widely covered micro-targeting services of Facebook that enable political parties to target users based on their personal data, we look at the lesser known but equally widespread techniques that use personal data for political campaigning. It is only by getting a view of the breadth, depth and scale of the techniques that we can begin to understand their relevance to the current political moment.

The guide, featuring case studies from around the world, gives clear descriptions of thirteen of the methods, explaining how they work, how they use personal data and the advantages and risks that they pose to political processes.

Featured examples include:

  • Official campaign mobile apps requesting camera and microphone permissions in India
  • Door-to-door canvassing apps pinpointing conservative voters on maps in France
  • A breach of 55 million registered voters’ data in the Philippines
  • A robocalling-driven voter suppression campaign in Canada
  • Controlling voters’ first impressions with attack ads on search engines in Kenya
  • Using experimentation to select a slogan and trigger emotional responses from Brexit voters

Download the PDF 'How it Works'.

About the project

The Data and Politics team at Tactical Tech has spent twelve months investigating these technologies: who is selling them, what they promise and how exactly they extract value from personal data. The team has attended events, interviewed practitioners and worked with partners spanning multiple countries to piece together a puzzle of the workings of the industry and the mechanisms they use. More of this research, including studies from 14 countries can be found on the Our Data Our Selves project website.

Our research was carried out at an international level by the Data and Politics team at Tactical Tech and at a national level in collaboration with our partners: Articulo 12 (Mexico), Boo Su-Lyn (Malaysia), Coding Rights (Brazil), Claudio Agosti and Fabio Chiusi (Italy), Colin J. Bennett and Robin M. Bayley (Canada), Elonnai Hickok (India), Eticas Foundation (Catalonia), Fundación Datos Protegidos (Chile), Grace Mutung’u (Kenya), Jeff Chester and Kathryn Montgomery (United States), José Luis Peñarredonda (Colombia), Judith Duportail (France) and Marianela Milanes (Argentina).