Dear Presidential Candidate: How Much Did You Get for My Info?


With the 2016 presidential election season in full swing, voters should be aware that candidates may be sharing a lot more than just their views. The personal data of anyone who visits their websites is at risk for being sold to or shared with unaffiliated third parties.

Last year, the Online Trust Alliance, a nonprofit seeking to enhance online trust and empower users, found that 74 percent of declared Republican and Democratic presidential candidates’ websites failed to adequately protect visitors’ privacy. It said “some websites failed due to nonexistent or inadequate privacy policy disclosures,” while others failed because they reserved the right to sell or share visitors’ personally identifiable information.

Meanwhile, as the 2016 season heats up, presidential candidates seem only hungrier for voter data, with some candidates trying new, creative data collection methods.

In December, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) lured voters with an offer to take photos with Santa; the photos were free, but voters had to register and provide an e-mail address to download them, OTA said in a recent blog post. Furthermore, one former 2016 presidential contender is charging more than $10,000 for access to his database of 675,000 subscribers, the blog said.

Calling for presidential candidates to exercise “ethical data privacy practice,” OTA criticized the “data sharing liberties” that the candidates were enjoying, noting that a “business in a similar situation might find itself in the crosshairs” of the Federal Trade Commission.

Notwithstanding the candidates’ failure to protect voter data, what are their views on cybersecurity? According to a Feb. 15 article, no top contender has given the topic much focus. Well, except perhaps for Ben Carson. 

In January, the retired neurosurgeon called for the creation of a National Cyber Security Administration that would act as a central hub for all government cybersecurity programs and initiatives. Carson explained that government agencies don’t talk enough to one other about their cybersecurity defenses.

President Obama seemed to agree. Obama recently proposed a $19 billion Cybersecurity National Action Plan and established the Federal Privacy Council, designed to be the “principal interagency forum” to enhance privacy practices of government agencies. 

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