IGF 2019 WS #123 Personal Data & Political Influence

Organizer 1: Varoon Bashyakarla, Tactical Technology Collective

Speaker 1: Varoon Bashyakarla, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Gary Wright, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Amber Macintyre, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Policy Question(s): 

Political parties use data-driven techniques to varying degrees and in different contexts. Some are just experimenting, some are using volunteers or in-kind support, others have extensive, well-funded strategies. Amongst political campaign strategists, there are a wide range of attitudes about the effectiveness and relevance of such techniques. Some believe they will give them a more modern edge in a new style of politics, others think of them as ‘snake oil’ or inviting a kind of political campaigning they would not like to emulate. Either way, in those contexts where the mood is cautious, many parties don’t want to acci- dentally expose themselves to risk, and others can’t afford not to try the techniques in case they really do work.

↘ Leaders within political parties need to take responsibility for a set of practices that are often outsourced to third parties or put into the hands of marketing, technical or junior support within a campaign. When deciding what approach a political party wants to take, can they align their ethos with their political strategy?
↘ If these practices become normalised in political campaigns then there should be a common agreement about the best ways of implementing them in the democratic process. A consensus about best practices is urgently needed for parties who want
to experiment but don’t want to seem too invasive, drawing clearer lines between ethical and unethical techniques and strategies.

↘ Easy-to-use and cheap-to-deploy techniques, such as micro-targeting services, have the potential to be an equalis- ing force but also to create unfair advantages. These services are easy to set up and affordable; as such, less well-resourced political parties report that they are welcome alternatives to relying on media coverage, which can be hard to get. However, they also advantage larger parties who have spending power and resources to work at scale. Could measures like spending caps help level the playing field?

↘ In some contexts, political parties have talked about a common agreement in which none of the parties use these techniques in a given election. Such agreements can’t hold unless all the parties running in a particular election or campaign agree. There are no known, successful examples of such an agreement to date. Is there an argument for this to be tested again, and how might it be enforced?

↘ A lot of attention is paid to the use of these tools with regards to the acquisition of power. However, evidence shows that such tools are also increasingly being experimented with for the maintenance of power, leading to political parties that run a kind of ‘permanent campaign’. Should we define the ‘rules of the game’ for parties running ongoing influence campaigns outside of election cycles?

Relevance to Theme: This workshop examines the widespread adoption of data-driven campaigning methods in election campaigns around the world. It explores the democratic benefits of these methods as well as the risks they pose to our democracy. The work presented and discussed is practitioner-led and global in scope, drawing extensively from case studies from North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. Relevant policy questions are explored for IGF's policy-first audience, as well as questions and provocations for voters, companies, and political parties.

Relevance to Internet Governance: The world of data-driven campaigning has existed in a legal gray area in which practices have been adopted before legal precedents and theory has had a chance to fully consider and govern their benefits and costs. Data-driven campaigning has many connections to internet governance, encompassing private companies, policy-makers, political campaigns / parties, and voters themselves. The all-encompassing nature of this topic is evident in the Cambridge Analytica news that broke in March of 2017.


Other - 60 Min
Format description: Tutorial, 60 minutes (presenters are experts on this topic)

Description: About one year ago, Cambridge Analytica highlighted how the commercial data industry can be applied to politics. While this company no longer exists, most of the technologies they used persist. In this workshop, researchers from Berlin-based NGO Tactical Tech aim to shed light on the global business built around using data for political influence. An entire sector is built around the acquisition and use of personal data for political campaigns. In order to understand what this means for our democracies, now and in the future, we first need to understand who is part of this industry and what tools they are using.

Some examples include:
• Official campaign mobile apps requesting camera and microphone permissions in India
• Door-to-door canvassing apps pinpointing conservative voters on maps in France
• A breach of 55 million registered voters’ data in the Philippines
• A robocalling-driven voter suppression campaign in Canada
• Controlling voters’ first impressions with attack ads on search engines in Kenya
• Using experimentation to select a slogan and trigger emotional responses from Brexit voters

An accompanying visual gallery, ‘What’s for Sale?’, that identifies over 300 companies that offer their services to political parties, will also be previewed.

Expected Outcomes: Translation of key tech practices to associated policy questions for policy-makers
An understanding of how data-driven campaigning can both strengthen and undermine democratic foundations
Nuanced and detailed anecdotes from all over the world

Onsite Moderator: 

Varoon Bashyakarla, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator: 

Varoon Bashyakarla, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Varoon Bashyakarla, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Discussion Facilitation: 

There will be a 15-minute question-and-answer session at the end. During this session, open discussion will be encouraged to prevent a one-way dialogue from presenters to question-askers.

Online Participation: 

We will gladly field / answer questions during our QnA that were submitted online.


GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions