In the United States, campaign teams are invading cellphones

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US Voters Receive Funny Messages on Their Cell Phones Ahead of the November 3 Presidential, Telling Them That Their Advance Votes Have Not Been Counted, Or That They Are Not On The Lists .

Asked to click on a link, they come across an article containing false information on a political figure.

Because to collect data, and reach voters, campaign teams must now bypass social networks, since Twitter, Facebook or even Google have toughened their rules on publications.

“What we are seeing is almost stronger than in 2016,” says Samuel Woolley, a professor at the University of Texas, who leads propaganda research.

The personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users around the world was then hijacked by British company Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump’s campaign, a scandal that erupted in 2018.

“In 2016, dependence on Facebook and other social networks was greater, but now campaign teams have taken charge of data collection,” notes Samuel Woolley, calling Donald Trump’s mobile application a “tool monitoring “.

His team of researchers observed that the president’s application, and to a lesser extent, those of his Democratic competitor Joe Biden and other political activist groups, allowed organizers to retrieve data to create profiles, then send targeted messages by SMS, email or social networks.

The information collected is not only that of the users of these applications, but also that of their contacts.

Disguised advertisements

Thomas, 32, has received dozens of messages on his cell phone, often in favor of Donald Trump.

“Looting. Riots. Cities on fire. This is the reality of an America led by Biden, ”reads the IT manager, who lives in Boston. “It really disturbed me,” he explains. “I do not subscribe to conservative political parties”.

Like him, many recipients have never downloaded an application linked to a political party, or even given their consent to receive such notifications, alert the researchers.

“Sending these messages does not require consent,” explains Jacob Gursky, researcher in Samuel Woolley’s team.

Some messages are actually advertisements, but without being labeled as such, contrary to the obligation of media or social networks to do so.

The FBI is also investigating offenses related to these mailings, such as the dissemination of false information or the use of threats or intimidation.

“Unscrupulous people use different methods to disseminate disinformation on the vote, such as social networks, SMS or messaging applications,” the agency said in a statement released in September.

Neither campaign team responded to AFP’s requests.

No legislation

And if Google and Facebook have imposed new rules, it has certainly improved things, but the work is far from done, underlines Bridget Barrett, researcher at the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life at the University. from North Carolina. “We don’t allow Russia to buy political ads with rubles, so that’s better,” she quipped.

But she notes that Facebook still allows advertisers, whether political or commercial, to select the recipients of their ads.

“We do not have general legislation on data confidentiality,” she notes, stressing that “the entire digital ecosystem is worrying from the point of view of privacy, concerning the ownership of data or the right to be informed about how they are used ”.

And micro-targeting is still there. This technique is not new but had been used successfully by Donald Trump’s team in 2016 because it makes it possible to reach people thanks to the information they give on social networks in particular.

“Campaign teams have large volumes of voter data”, which facilitates the spread of disinformation, but also the encouragement or discouragement to vote, details Costas Panagopoulos, head of political science at Northeastern University .

If “the purpose of some of these messages is to dispossess voters of their rights”, they nevertheless have, in the end, “the obligation and the responsibility” to make their decision without being fooled.

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