Many elected officials are in favor of more online privacy…except when it comes to how they use data to target voters and raise money. While neither presidential candidate has made online privacy issues a part of his campaign, the debate over privacy is certainly a hot topic in Washington. In addition, both the Obama and Romney campaigns have released mobile apps, and transparency of mobile apps have been the focus of the initial multistakeholder processes for privacy initiated by the NTIA. With that in mind, I decided to investigate the privacy practices of the two presidential campaign websites.
There are some clear differences between the privacy policies on the campaign websites. For example, the Obama for America website has much more detailed disclosure of its practices and uses of information. Perhaps this is not surprising since transparency is one of the key principles in the Obama Administration’s proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The Obama for America campaign also appears to be using more services that collect and use data on its website.
The principle shortcoming of both privacy policies is in how they deal with PII shared by a third-party, such as a friend or family member. Both privacy policies are largely silent on this issue, and I would like to see more detailed information from both campaigns on how this information is handled.
Romney: 821 words
Romney: No information available
Obama: Last revised February 3, 2012
Methods of Tracking
Romney: 11 third-party cookies, 12 cookies total
Obama: 16 third-party cookies, 20 cookies total
Obama: The Obama for America privacy is not much different. While the policy states “It is our policy not to share the personal information we collect from you through our Sites with third parties, except as described in this Policy or as otherwise disclosed on the Sites,” the policy then lists exceptions such as “with candidates, organizations, groups or causes that we believe have similar political viewpoints, principles or objectives.” Such broad exemptions in its policy basically make any form of data sharing permissible under this policy.
One interesting note is that the Romney for President app (“Mitt’s VP”) is a whopping 25 megabytes compared to 4.1 megabytes for the Obama for America app. It is unclear why the Romney for President app is so large, given its relatively limited functionality.