Political Campaigns May Put Your Personal Data at Risk
by Nicholas Pell
There's a new story of a major hack or data leak almost every month.
However, one place you certainly don't expect to have to worry about your personal information getting stolen is with political campaigns. Still, privacy experts are raising some red flags over how data is stored for political campaigns.
What you read next might have you hesitating before you make the final decision to donate your hard-earned cash to the candidate of your choice.
What Political Sites Ask When You Donate
Many of the privacy concerns revolve around the questions websites ask you when you make a donation online.
Sure, they're collecting your credit card information and address and identifying details, but they're also collecting information about your opinions on relevant topics of the day. For example, many political websites contain surveys when you make a donation.
There aren't really any regulations for how secure political campaigns have to keep this information or who they can share it with or anything else for that matter.
Political campaigns are often exempt from relevant cybersecurity laws, such as laws that would restrict spamming.
As such, they're not bound by the same kind of stringent data control and security provisions that your favorite online retailers are. That's because while retailers are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, which has guidelines for cybersecurity, political campaigns are regulated by the Federal Election Commission, which does not -- and has no plans to get any.
What's more, political campaigns often explicitly reserve the right to sell your information to causes they think you might agree with. If you're getting calls to donate to this or that cause, that's probably why. There are lists for people with a history of donating to causes of like mind. End up on one and it might get shared around with all of them. Rarely, as is the case when you're doing online shopping, are you given the choice to opt out and not have your information shared around.
The problem isn't new. However, what is new is that your data can be aggregated in large collections of data, including your sensitive personal information and financial details. This, in turn, makes you more vulnerable to identity thieves and hackers, because you never know who is in on the sharing.
How to Keep Your Information Safe
So how do you contribute but still stay safe?
- Don't share more information than you need to. You don't have to answer the questionnaires when you donate. So don't. It reduces the chances of having your personal information shared.
- Opt out whenever possible. Don't give permission to share your details. No matter how much you trust the campaign, do you trust everyone they trust? And everyone that they trust?
These two simple steps can help you keep your private information private while you lend some support to your candidate of choice.