SHADY DATA PRACTICES

READERS WILL have been amused to see Breda O’Brien railing against online political advertising in last weekend’s Irish Times. While referencing the 2008 Obama campaign and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the columnist had rather less to say about technical innovations adopted by the No campaign during last year’s Eighth Amendment referendum.

Shady data practices and ethically dubious modern campaign methods became typical in this jurisdiction as two major anti-abortion groups, Love Both and Save the 8th, employed a host of digital gurus and gimmicky applications in an effort to emulate sensational right-wing victories elsewhere.

Among those enlisted was Thomas Borwick, who had been chief technology officer for the Vote Leave brexit campaign and whose companies are presently under investigation by the UK Information Commissioner.

Both groups also bought software and web services from US firm, Political Social Media LLC, whose clients include the National Rifle Association (NRA), Donald Trump and a number of high profile Republican Party politicians. Neither campaigns or the companies involved answered questions over whose hands Irish voter’s information may eventually end up in. The extent of ‘dark money’ targeting also caused enough alarm for Google and Facebook to take an unprecedented step in restricting campaign advertising.

None of this will have come cheap and O’Brien herself has found a new concern about the “huge imbalance in funding” that often fuel these innovations.  Latest accounts for the Prolife Campaign, who steered Love Both, show that revenue increased by over 300% in the year to December 2017 and that the group had over 320k in the bank before the real business of fundraising even began.