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Free email (and political ads)

Marc Sanchez Jun 13, 2012

ProPublica is reporting on how Microsoft and Yahoo are taking the information you use to set up an email account and selling to political parties. It’s not against the law, but it’s also something that’s probably not top of mind when you’re trying to set up lovinggrandson@hotmail.com, so you can send a message to grandma from there instead of  your usual account: 24hourpartydude@yahoo.com.

Actually it’s a little more sophisticated than just selling lists of email account names. You see, both companies can act as a sort of portal, tracking your email address while you surf the web. After some serious data crunching on things like voting records and which party you’re registered with, political campaigns can use that information to tailor ads to people. It’s the same kind of thinking most of us are used to, like when you visit Amazon, and the site shows you microwave safe containers because you recently browsed the site for a new microwave. Here’s what the article has to say:

Microsoft and Yahoo said they safeguard the privacy of their users and do not share their users’ personal information directly with the campaigns. Both companies also said they do not see the campaigns’ political data, because the match of voter names and registration data is done by a third company. They say the matching is done to target groups of similar voters, and not named individuals.
According to Microsoft, President Obama’s re-election campaign has recently done this kind of targeting, and both national political parties have done so previously.

The Romney campaign’s digital director is a guy named Zac Moffat, who runs a company that specializes in this kind of political data crunching.

Google and Facebook have decided not to participate in selling this information.

Google’s privacy policy classifies political beliefs as “sensitive personal information,” which should not be used for online ad targeting. Facebook does allow political campaigns to target political advertisements, but only on the basis of political beliefs reported by the users themselves, rather than information culled from their voting records.

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