The cyber war: Voters are being targeted in new and powerful ways

The scene could be in Tampa, or Santa Barbara, or Chicago. Mr and Mrs Sixpack are relaxing after dinner with their iPads. Each is looking at the same news website, but each will be shown different political advertising. He sees something about naval bases, from the Romney camp; she sees a post about the president’s environmental record. This is a new trick. Behind this year’s digital campaigns — whether through e-mail, social networks, apps or web advertising — lies an enormous body of data that have been integrated for the first time.Sasha Issenberg, author of a new book, “The Victory Lab”, says the innovation in this election cycle is that the campaigns are able to link online and offline data. Voter-registration files have been merged with vast quantities of bought consumer data, on top of which come bought or acquired e-mails, mobile and landline numbers, as well as data gathered through canvassing, phone banks and social-media pages. The campaigns are also making use of cookies, the crumbs of data people leave behind when they browse the net. It is these that allow Mr and Mrs Sixpack to be sent different advertising.

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