Have you ever wondered whether political parties are placing tracking cookies on your computer when you visit their websites?
This worries me, because I don’t want to be tracked by anyone, so I dug deeper to find out what exactly they are tracking.
As you probably know by now, online advertisers place cookies on your computer so they can track which websites you visit. Based on the websites you visit, they serve you relevant ads.
Political parties use similar tracking cookies in an effort to help sway your vote. So yes, you are being tracked by one or both campaigns if you visit their websites and do not employ cookie-blocker software.
It’s called data mining, and it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that most people don’t even know is happening. And advertisers, as well as the political campaigns, want to keep it that way.
Let’s take a look at how and why they do it.
I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me
A cookie is a small piece of text stored on your computer when you visit almost any website. A cookie can be used for authentication, storing site preferences, shopping cart contents, or anything else that can be accomplished through storing text data.
Online advertisers use them to track which websites you visit and what you do on these websites. They use this information to build up a huge dossier on your preferences and then either use this to serve you specific ads tailored to you, or they turn around and sell this information to third parties.
All without your consent, I might add.
Some online advertisers deal exclusively with political campaigns, because that’s where the big money is, especially this time of year. These political advertisers help campaigns serve specific ads to any demographic they are targeting, such as 40-50-year-old female democrats in Ohio’s 16th district who care about the economy and are likely voters.
These tracking cookies also make it easy for campaigns to see which political messages resonate with voters.
While almost all political messages have been tailored to specific audiences, online political advertising can be personalized to a much greater degree. Unfortunately, this is usually also far less transparent.
The Problem with Online Tracking
The main problem with political tracking is the same as it is for any online tracking: we are not asked if we want to participate in it. A research firm found that over half of all adults were unaware they were being tracked by political parties, and over 60% are uncomfortable with the practice.
Campaigns, as well as any online advertiser, should ask for our permission before targeting us with political message. And Congress and the FEC should pass and uphold laws that protect our online privacy.
Online political ads should be treated just the same as with any online advertiser. Whether or not we want to be tracked should be in our hands, not theirs.
Opting Out of Online Tracking
One thing you can to protect your online privacy is to disable third-party cookies which limits the types of information advertisers, as well as political campaigns, can collect.
If you want to block all third-party content, you can also install the Ghostery plug-in. SlimCleaner and CClearner are both free software that can clear out any cookies hiding in your computer.