HomeBlogDonor Data; the New Currency for Presidential Candidates, Time for ethical data privacy practice

Donor Data; the New Currency for Presidential Candidates, Time for ethical data privacy practice

Voter data is the new currency and candidates are reaping the rewards targeting voters and ultimately determining who will be the next President. As we have transformed into a data driven society and economy this may be expected. But the candidate’s privacy and data practices in both the news headlines and in the backroom are not.  As we head into the State primaries and caucuses, this data is proving to be invaluable.

Candidates have pulled out all stops to collect data. For example in December Senator Cruz enticed voters with the offer of Santa photos as a means to prospect for voter data. The photos are free but you must register and provide your email address to download photos. This is a creative tactic aiding his campaign’s effort to collect profile data on current and potential supporters. What parent can say no to their child who wants a photo with Santa?

What most donors and voters do not know is the data sharing liberties candidates are taking.  It is clear voter’s personal data may be more valuable than their donations. In September the Online Trust Alliance released our audit of privacy and data security practices of the 23 leading contenders for the Office of President. The report revealed the majority of candidates reserve the right to sell or trade personal data to unaffiliated third parties.

Senator Cruz goes states that “in order to maximize your experience with our website and to provide its features and services, we may periodically access your contact list and/or address book on your mobile device. You hereby give your express consent to access your contact list and/or address book”. This and other related practices contributed to 74 percent of the candidate’s receiving failing grades in the Audit.  

Cruz is not alone.  While Scott Walker is no longer a Presidential contender, his supporters might be surprised to learn that their data is now being sold in conflict to his own site’s privacy policy. According to public data, Walker’s campaign charges $10,500 to send email to his database of 675,000 subscribers.  And let us not forget how the Sanders campaign allegedly accessed Clinton’s donor data.   The Democrat National Committee (DNC) reacted swiftly cutting off Sanders staff from crucial voter database, saying the campaign wrongly accessed data gathered by Clinton's team Sander quickly filed a lawsuit from Sanders alleging the data was not used and the DNC was not properly protecting their data and had reported previous lapses in data security in the months leading up to the recent “breach incident.”

A business in a similar situation might find itself in the crosshairs of Section 5 of the FTC Act and several States’ consumer protection acts.

The liberties candidates are taking with voter data is troubling. If an industry leader such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook or Apple were sharing and selling personal data to the extent candidates seem to, they would likely find themselves testifying before a Congressional hearing. Citizens may be contributing to candidates with their checkbooks, but the real value is the buying, selling and trading of their personal data.

Consumer anxiety regarding data privacy is becoming a global concern. This year we witnessed the shattering of the 15-year-old Safe Harbor between the EU and U.S. In the US Senators have re-introduced the Do Not Track Online Act of 2015 with the goal of requiring sites and ad networks to respect the user’s intent. Addressing the concerns, the European Parliament and Council of the European Union reached an agreement on the final draft of the EU General Data Protection Regulation. This directive establishes a framework for the 28 member states for data security and privacy. The regulation aims to return control over citizens’ personal data and fine companies found in violation.

Campaigns argue their practices are disclosed, legal and protected under the “shadow of the first amendment”, exempt from State and Federal laws. While regulators may look the other way or be prevented from taking action, it does not make the candidate’s actions appropriate. In light of worldwide privacy concerns are the candidates’ practices considered responsible or ethical? Should the next President of the United Stated be held accountable to same standards as a business?

Now is the time for candidates at the Federal, State and local level and national parties to view these incidents and practices as teachable moments and put the citizens first. By default, consumer’s (donor’s) data should not be shared with any third party other than required by law. As our nation becomes increasingly dependent on data, we need to put the protection of citizen’s digital rights at the forefront. The U.S. needs leaders who will prioritize these protections, demonstrating integrity and commitment to data stewardship. The long term benefit will be increased trust and support. My vote goes to the privacy party! Follow me on twitter @otalliance.