Election Privacy Lessons Revealed By Abine’s “What’s My Vote Worth” Calculator

April 22, 2022
Last week, we announced the release of our “What’s My Vote Worth” calculator, with which individuals can enter anonymous information about themselves – like party affiliation, age, ethnicity, and voting history – to get a projected estimate of how much was spent on political ads targeting them specifically. Since launch, we’ve received overwhelmingly positive responses from those who have tried it, but we’ve anso gotten some follow-up questions – essentially, what does this tool reveal about individuals’ data privacy, and where do we go from here. Let’s dive in…

Takeaways from “What’s My Vote Worth” Tool

what's my vote worth
Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash
First, we recommend trying “What’s My Vote Worth” calculator for yourself, and tinkering with different fields to see how factors like party affiliation, state, voter history, and demographic information affects how much advertisers spend on members of different groups. It may be surprising just how large an impact these factors play in the way political advertisers spend their funds. Beyond that, Abine’s research team has highlighted a few takeaways that should be of interest to any politically active citizen:

1. Some Voters See a LOT More Ads, and It’s Not Just in “Battleground States”

According to our data, while the average American saw $46 worth of ads, this figure ranged widely – from as little as $10 per voter to over $300 per voter in some cases. For instance, a male republican in Minnesota saw just 10% ad spend as a female independent in Florida, and the differences are even more stark when you factor in age and ethnicity in the model. Further, presidential battleground state residents aren’t the only high-value voter groups. High spending in competitive house, senate, gubernatorial races is reflected in pockets all over the country, and has a significant impact on ad spend per person.

2. This is Not Just “Politics As Usual” – Technology has Changed the Game Completely

Politicians and advertisers have always known that not all voters should be valued equally, and politicians have always tried to tailor their talking points depending on their audience. What’s different today is that the technology and availability of voter data has taken these political realities to a whole new stratosphere. Simply put, the ability to reach very specific voters with specific messages has resulted in a disparity in political advertising spend that’s never before seen, because political advertisers now have exponentially greater ability to hone in their ads on smaller and smaller segments of the population. To give an example, here are some of the lists currently used for voter targeting:
  • Nationwide voter files from L2 and DataTrust include up to 50 data points on nearly 160M U.S. citizens.
  • Nationwide consumer data files from Acxiom and InfoGroup include up to 500 data points on nearly 160M individuals.
  • Psychographic inventories on 30M individuals.
  • ForAmerica member data, including 14.6M posted comments and 240M post likes across 31M users.
  • Facebook behavioral data from complete user base.
  • Other data broker services which, according to Abine’s findings, have data on nearly 97% of all U.S. adults.

3. Despite Our Outrage at Data Privacy Violations in 2016, Little Has Changed Since Then

data privacy violations
Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash
By now, most voters have heard of the 2018 “Cambridge Analytica Scandal,” in which one advertising firm was publicly lambasted for supposedly using highly questionable practices to influence the 2016 election. That’s the story that captured headlines, and the story that most people believed.  However, recent investigation of the matter revealed a very different reality. In fact, subsequent reports concluded that the companies involved in this supposedly outrageous scandal didn’t ACTUALLY do anything particularly unique; on the contrary, their tactics of leveraging private citizen data in political campaigns were “in the main, well recognised processes using commonly available technology.”   In other words, it’s the whole industry that’s rotten. So, if we were outraged by “well recognised processes” in the 2016 election cycle, what’s changed since then? Unfortunately, not much. Numerous investigations since confirm the sad reality – little has changed in practice and the situation is arguably much worse than it was in 2016 And so continues the vicious cycle – politicians and advertisers spend increasing sums attempting to reach voters, increasing the demand for private data. This incentivizes 3rd parties to engage in the collection/sale/trade of personal information, putting more money in the pockets of data brokers. Ultimately the financial motivation trickles down to hackers who attempt to illegally access this information – as was recently seen in the case of one hacker who obtained and attempted to sell 186 Million voter records on the dark web.

Where Do We Go from Here

Global privacy control Abine is a strong advocate for legislative reform that puts individual citizens in control of their own data. We have been vocal proponents of Proposition 24, which would implement the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA). At the same time, we have been actively involved in efforts to advance existing regulations, through our early implementation of the Global Privacy Control standard in our most recent version of Blur.  We also realize the legislation typically lags innovation, and as individuals we cannot wait on the government to mandate better control of private citizen data. As such, we strongly believe that concerned citizens must fight back against the political data broker industry, to curtail personalized targeting of voters online.  Abine customers subscribed to DeleteMe are already taking action, by automatically monitoring and removing themselves from the web’s top political data brokers. Anyone concerned about protecting their privacy can use our data broker DIY “opt-out guides” to manually remove their data from these broker sites. So, despite this worsening state of data privacy and political advertising, we as citizens still have the opportunity to take control of our personal information – through individual action and improved legislation – to combat political advertisers and reduce the impact of ads that further invade our privacy and divide our country.

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