Campaigns, data mining, and the fourth amendment
I got an explanation of how this works from Colin Shearer, a former artificial intelligence scientist who is now a vice president of SPSS, named after a software project called the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. His company provides the key tools of what it calls "predictive analytics" (the secret sauce of microtargeting) to commercial concerns and, increasingly, political customers. SPSS's customers include companies you may not have heard of -- Strategic Telemetry; Catalist; TargetPoint; and Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates -- but they are the key consultants for microtargeting efforts of both parties. Strategic Telemetry is working for Obama, Penn for Clinton, Catalist with the Democratic National Committee, and TargetPoint worked for Romney but is widely expected to be onboard for McCain in the general election.
The process involves gathering elaborate information on voters. Alex Lundry, research director of TargetPoint, talks of a "data DNA profile" that can include public items such as party affiliation, Zip code-based assumptions on income level and housing, and fairly detailed consumer preferences such as which car you drive, where you vacation and which entertainment you prefer. (Yes, that stuff is for sale, enabled greatly by widespread neglect of those "opt out" check boxes in the fine print of privacy policies.) That information is augmented by surveys that link such traits and behaviors to attitudes on political and social issues.
Does anyone think that the politicians elected by such techniques are going to be careful guardians or our privacy?