This company tracked Iowa caucusgoers through their phones

Ad networks: completely legit and not even a little disturbing.

For most ads you see on web browsers and mobile devices, there is an auction among various programmatic advertising firms for the chance to show you an ad. We are one of those buyers, and we are sent a variety of anonymous data, including what kind of phone you have, what app you are using, what operating system version you're running, and sometimes -- crucially for this study -- your latitude and longitude (lat/long).

We identified the caucusing locations prior [to] the Iowa caucus and told our system to be on the lookout for devices that report a lat/long at those locations during the caucus. [...]

To build out that rich information set that you are referring to (we call them 'Crafted Audiences'), we need to see a device several times across many different sites. We then use some pretty sophisticated machine learning techniques to extrapolate behaviors. We can only do this because we see such a broad view of digital behavior. In other words we know that seeing you on sites A, B and C mean that you are likely a New Mom, but seeing you on A, D and E mean that you are Health Conscious.

Previously, previously.

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13 Responses:

  1. nooj says:

    Who does it think will win?

    • Eli the Bearded says:

      They don't care. Who will pay them for their "insights", that's where it's at.

      • James says:

        The hilarious thing about them having gone to all that trouble is there's so much more high quality data out there for free. Can you imagine the break room conversation?

        "I'm telling you, Frank, we're going to shave a full quarter point off of thousand sample margin of errors with this one. Say, how much did the push campaign cost?"

  2. Mspong says:

    I wonder if they have Crafted Audiences called "high energy world beaters" and "gravy eating porch sitters"?

  3. tobias says:

    perhaps the only solution is to leave the phone at home and prevent the mobile telephony revolution never occurred.

    except for emergencies.

  4. margaret says:

    and this is why i keep my phone in my tinfoil hat.

  5. Shodan says:

    ....Because, according to focus groups, people have negative associations with the phrases "private sector propagandist" and "mercenary secret police".

  6. Alex says:

    Blockthing all the ads. That said, Dstillery's MO seems to be that they pretend to be an ad buyer to get data from Facebook. I've been through an activist training course that made very clear that Facebook ads suck but the ad buyer interface is useful; some data journalist folk have built unauthorised APIs. They seem to be submitting fake bids at a scale that must be automated, which strikes me as fraud-y and the kind of thing a good lawyer could get an angle on.

    • Phil says:

      I don't see any mention of Facebook, just advertising broker networks (which may or may not include Facebook). Nor that they put in fake bids, just that they analysed the data that is given to anybody who participates in the auctions on those networks. I doubt there's anything to get legal about.