Romney snooping on Americans’ private data to sniff out potential donors

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, August 24, 2012 17:19 EDT
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Consumer information floats across a social network. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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In hopes of identifying untapped Republican donors, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has secretly employed a data-mining firm based in Fort Worth, Texas to crunch thousands of minute, many times private details about Americans living in more than 120 million households, The Associated Press revealed on Friday.

The AP noted that Romney’s campaign hasn’t yet reported paying the firm any money, and neither has the Republican National Committee. However, a source within Romney’s campaign told AP reporter Jack Gillum that the candidate has hired Fort Worth-based Buxton Co. to provide what amounts to sales leads for the campaign’s fundraising staff. CEO Tom Buxton confirmed the claim, but the Romney campaign had no comment.

Buxton brags that it has “one of the largest databases of consumer information anywhere,” tracking more than 75,000 different characteristics about each person, including “brand loyalties, lifestyle choices, hobbies, purchasing behavior and media preferences.”

Data collected by Buxton and other private intelligence shops in the data-mining business is often gathered quietly, behind the scenes by companies that buy and sell massive quantities of personal information. That information includes things like credit card purchases, health carde and Internet search histories, churchgoing habits, Facebook posts, music tastes, favorite activities and much, much more, all of which can be combed to reveal startling personal insights — like knowing whether a woman is pregnant before she’s even told anyone, as big box retailer Target did earlier this year in a case that set off alarms about how deep big data actually reaches.

The entrance of Buxton in the presidential race could give Romney an advantage of President Barack Obama’s big data efforts, which so far have focused on the comparatively limited world of social media networks like Facebook to help target and influence voters and drum up donations. It’s also the first major move the Romney campaign has made into the realm of big data, and if Buxton is as successful as they’ve been helping Fortune 500 companies maximize profits, it could help him continue to widen his financial lead on the president.

However, it could also prove alarming to Romney’s core constituency among elderly, white, wealthy conservatives, 83 percent of whom told the Lares Institute last month that they are very concerned about how their private information is being used. Privacy management firm TRUSTe also said in February that 90 percent of adults worry about companies snooping on their private information, warning that too much snooping and customer personalized marketing can undermine trust.

Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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