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4 Nov, 2012

New Report Details Web Tracking in Politics


WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released its latest report, Web Crawlers: How Candidates and Political Groups Track You Online. New research by CREW found visitors to the websites of the presidential candidates, party committees, and top-spending outside groups in 2012 are being tagged by dozens of sophisticated pieces of technology used to identify unique users and track their online behavior.

“CREW’s latest report proves Washington political operatives are keeping an extraordinarily close eye on prospective voters’ online habits,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “Not only has this practice exploded since the 2008 election, tracking has continued to increase the closer we get to Election Day. While these groups may claim such trackers allow them to present web users with more relevant information, people should be wary of how their personal information is being safeguarded.”

Notably, CREW found 37 trackers on President Barack Obama’s campaign website — the highest number of trackers on any of the 27 political websites CREW examined. Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign website proved to be the second most aggressive data collector, utilizing 28 tracking tools. Meanwhile, the non-profit group Crossroads GPS had 20 trackers. In these three instances, the majority of these trackers were ad-related.

Although the New York Times ran an article about this issue on October 28th, that piece focused only on the presidential campaigns and not on the party committees or the top-spending outside groups. Further, CREW’s report delves more deeply into the privacy concerns raised by the use of these trackers.

In total, CREW found 77 separate tracking tools, many of which appeared on multiple websites, totaling 319 trackers in all. The privacy policies of 16 of these trackers have been criticized as warranting either “concern” or “caution” by PrivacyScore, an online tool for assessing the privacy practices and policies of websites and companies. CREW also found 39 of the trackers identified do not disclose any data retention policy, meaning web users have no way of knowing how long the information collected is kept by these companies.

“The vast majority of Americans are disturbed by advertising based on online tracking, especially when it comes to politics,” continued Ms. Sloan. “Visitors to web sites have little to no idea how much information is collected or what happens to the information about them. Voters should be concerned about both the lack of transparency and invasion of privacy.”

Click here to read CREW’s report