We live in a world with vast amounts of communication and data. In some ways, it is our greatest blessing and biggest curse of modern technology in that our activities can be so easily tracked.
When Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s spying activities, there was not a widespread reaction by the American people. Even though we can now confirm that the NSA is collecting vast amounts of data, including virtually all of our email communications, most Americans just aren’t that concerned.
I think the NSA is an important issue because it gives the government more power. With that extra power comes even more opportunity for abuse. It would be hard to imagine that this data has not been used for nefarious purposes of specifically targeting individuals.
I can easily imagine a scenario where a congressman gets out of line with the establishment and the NSA and powers-that-be remind the congressman that they have a bunch of emails that he would not want exposed to the public.
The point is, when you hand over vast amounts of power, especially to a government agency, we should not be surprised if there is major corruption and abuse going on.
With that said, I can understand why most Americans do not get too worked up over the collection of their personal data. They don’t see it as impacting their lives, and in most cases, they are probably correct. The NSA is dealing with billions of pieces of communication every day, so it is not as if they are capable of actually examining one piece out of 10,000. There are software programs that may identify key words, but again, this just produces more data – mostly useless – to sift through.
The Ted Cruz Version of the NSA
Presidential candidate Ted Cruz has been somewhat critical of the NSA. He is not making it a point to go around and say he wants to abolish it or withdraw all funding, but he still sees it as important enough to mention it at times.
Ironically, Cruz himself is under fire for collecting information from voters in regards to their personal information.
There is actually a “Cruz Crew” mobile app that is specifically designed to track people, including their physical movements. The Cruz campaign is trying to identify demographics to narrow down little details about each potential voter. When you can identify the activities and preferences of each person, it becomes easier to target that person with a specific message.
This may be part of the reason that Cruz was so successful in Iowa. The Iowa Caucuses in particular depend largely on organization and encouraging people to spend the time to attend on your behalf.
The Cruz campaign has already come under fire for sending mailers to people’s homes identifying their participation (or lack of participation) in past elections. It seemed to be a way of shaming people to get involved.
In regards to collecting personal data, to be fair to the Cruz campaign, he is not alone. It is obviously quite valuable in knowing some of the information of your supporters or potential supporters. These details can make the difference when you are talking about targeting certain groups with a certain message.
If you know someone is a gun enthusiast, you might be more likely to send an email message or a mailer that touts the candidate’s support of gun rights. If that is the person’s hot-button issue, then this could be enough to persuade the person to vote for a particular candidate.
Ben Carson has a campaign app that attempts to collect personal data, but it does give an option to follow the campaign without providing personal information.
John Kasich and Bernie Sanders also have apps where personal information being disclosed is not required but highly encouraged.
We just have to face the facts that this is the campaigning of the 21st century. It is the same as advertising. In this case, it is advertising a candidate. Advertising has existed for a long time, but it is just now more advanced.
Government vs. Voluntary
Targeted advertising is common now everywhere, especially on the internet. You probably see it every day, whether you are aware of it or not. Many companies don’t even try to hide it any longer.
You could go to a website looking at hotels in Hawaii. The next thing you know, there are ads appearing on websites you visit that have pictures of hotels in Hawaii. You are being tracked.
If you actually see an ad and click on it, you may get retargeted as well. Companies know that buyers sometimes wait and need to be reminded of a product that they may be interested in.
Even the big box stores track your activity through the use of credit cards or rewards cards. If you go to Walmart and buy diapers for a baby, you may end up receiving coupons in the mail from Walmart that include coupons for baby items. They may mix these in with other coupons so that it is not obvious.
This advertising may be annoying to some, but it can really be useful in a lot of cases. You may end up learning about a reduced price for a particular item you were looking for. Or you may discover a product that you didn’t know existed based on your interests.
It is interesting that some people are so bothered about companies collecting personal information, while they could not care any less about the government collecting their information. For me, the one thing that worries me about companies collecting information is that they are sharing it with the government in some manner.
But there is a major difference between government data collection and private companies collecting data. Companies can’t force people to do things. They can advertise and try to persuade them to buy, but they can’t force you to buy.
Government on the other hand can use force. That is really what government is. The government can use force or the threat of force to enact its agenda. It can tax you. It can send you to jail.
I don’t know if Cruz is being a hypocrite for collecting personal information on potential voters and supporters. But in his capacity as a candidate, he can’t force people to do things. He can really only use this data to advertise, which in this case is advertising himself as the product.
Unfortunately, if Cruz gets elected president, I don’t think he is going to get rid of the NSA, or even significantly curtail its spying abilities. This is where the danger lies because this data can be used against us for nefarious purposes. The government isn’t collecting our data just for marketing purposes.