There is no shortage of passionate feelings among voters when it comes to this November’s presidential election. Those feelings extend tenfold to each candidate’s campaigns. Although campaigns depend on passion and monetary contributions to keep going, they also rely on something else: data.
As a voter, everything from your purchase history on Amazon or eBay to your Facebook activity is used to help develop profiles of typical constituents and the issues they care about. That’s before you even give money to a campaign or download a candidate’s app. Presidential campaigns face the same data security issues as any private company does, except they are often dealing with them with the limited staff and resources common in the public sector.
All this leads to the question of how voters, government workers and campaign volunteers can help keep data safe and secure, while still being able to engage in the democratic process. By following the below tips, you can get involved in the process and be confident that your confidential information will stay safe.
1. Know how politicians collect voter data
While it can sometimes seem interminable, the election season is quick. Therefore, campaigns need to collect data quickly. They often get voter information using open source or software-as-a-service (SaaS) data collection and aggregation tools, rather than developing their own database solutions.
These tools do a great job of grouping people by key characteristics and creating specific personas that the campaign can target. However, campaigns actually have very little control over the data. This means they often have to trust that the vendor is keeping voter data secure.
To get a better idea of how your candidate’s campaign uses data, don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can get a good idea of how the campaign treats data by simply asking questions such as, “What steps do you take to protect my data?” and “How will you use my data?”
2. Take control of your data security
What if you don’t get a satisfactory answer to the questions above? It’s important to remember that your data is your data; you can choose to share as much or as little of it with campaigns as you choose. For example, you can limit what you ultimately share by not engaging with candidates’ social media accounts and using the privacy settings on your Internet browser. If you are called by a campaign for a donation or survey, you don’t have to answer every question.
The important thing is to do what makes you feel comfortable. If there are personal details or other information you don’t feel like you should disclose to a campaign, don’t.
3. Remember data from the campaign doesn’t disappear after the election
Campaigns don’t delete information unless they are required to destroy data. After all, candidates spent a lot of money and time gathering and analyzing data. Why simply destroy it, rather than potentially using it for the next run?
This goes for that data gathered and analyzed by third parties, as well. As a voter, not only do you need to know how a campaign handles your data up to the election, you need to know what happens to your data after the campaign ends. If there’s no plan to keep it secure, or even better, delete it, then that is a cause for concern.
Make your data privacy concerns known
In the end, it’s important to remember that you’re the voter; you have the power. If you don’t like how campaigns treat sensitive data, speak up. Besides not sharing information that you feel is too personal or confidential, you can contact your representatives to learn just how data is collected, used and managed. Making your voice heard, and making it clear that the issue is important is the only way to make strict data security standards a priority for campaigns and the government.
Election day will be here before we know it. Don’t sit this one out. No matter whom you support, get out there and participate. By following these four tips, you can contribute to the process, while still having a good idea of what’s happening with your personal data in this election, and in elections to come.