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Data mining crackdown helped curb aggressive political targeting

Less data surveillance thankfully means less information with which to target people.

Facebook is said to be losing much of its “luster” associated with high efficiency of its political ads system – at least on Apple’s devices, after the latter tech giant ushered in privacy changes letting users opt-out of app tracking, including for the purpose of political targeting.

A former Facebook employee who is now behind Voter Formation Project, a non-profit whose goal is to increase election turnout among voters from “underrepresented communities,” said that Apple’s privacy changes hit hard their conversion ads served on iOS devices.

In terms of political campaigning, this is of utmost importance, since this type of ads rely on action taken by users interacting with ads by taking action – and it could be anything from filling out a form, “committing to vote” or donating to a party, Protocol says in its report.

Profiled along with the impact Apple’s “privacy war” with Facebook is having is Tatenda Musapatike, who before starting the non-profit worked for Facebook as a client solutions manager and was helping Democrats make sure they hit their target audience both in the 2016 presidential and the 2018 midterm US elections.

Now, her Voter Formation Project, which used the conversion ads method to target voters in Texas and Virginia, has published a report stating that as the reach of these ads among iOS users is declining, the cost is rising, and describes the situation as worse than they thought it would be.

In numbers, getting people to “convert” and visit the website from Facebook now costs $424, triple what the organization would have expected in an election-free year in the US. Before Apple made its privacy changes, the Voter Formation Project had over 60% conversion ads hit iOS devices and now, that figure is less than 37%.

But it is Facebook, not Apple, that is accused in the non-profit’s report, alleging that it suppresses delivery of ads to devices “that are more likely to block its ability to track the conversion action.” In short, Facebook is alleged to be deliberately not showing conversion apps to Apple device users.

Facebook, meanwhile, has been saying all along that its system delivers ads to the most relevant audience, “regardless of the device they’re using.”

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