Campaigns, the Internet, and Big Data


In this morning’s Politico, Emile Schultheis explores how German politicians are trying to emulate the Obama’s campaign data and digital operation in advance of the country’s September 22 federal election.  “The Internet has come into the center of the campaign,” Robert Heinrich, Green Party campaign manager, is quoted as saying.  He notes, however, that campaigns “will not win a campaign with the Internet, but without it, you will lose.”

This echoes comments provided by Rayid Ghani at the FPF and Stanford Center for Internet & Society “Big Data and Privacy” workshop on Tuesday.  Ghani, the former Chief Scientist for the Obama 2012 campaign, has turned his attention to using data for good.  Speaking about his time on the campaign, he suggested that the campaign’s data operation may have had nothing to with the President’s ultimate margin of victory.  Instead, he emphasized that good data was all about improving the President’s probability of victory.

“People are assuming that you can predict everything about everyone 10 years in advance with big data, but algorithms are not as deterministic as some think. It is more about probability,” Ghani said.  In his address about Big Data, he admitted that he wasn’t nearly as concerned about privacy threats as he was the public’s lack of education and knowledge about how data works.

Informing people about how data are used—and how inferences are drawn from it—was suggested over and over again as one way to address public concerns about Big Data.  Perhaps education and digital literacy will be a primary tool to help make privacy concerns and Big Data benefits meet?