Steve Bannon and the conservative group CatholicVote used cell-phone location data for people who had been inside Roman Catholic churches in Dubuque, Iowa, in 2018 to target them with get-out-the-vote ads, ThinkProgress has learned.
…“If your phone’s ever been in a Catholic church, it’s amazing, they got this data,” Bannon told director Alison Klayman as they sat in his Washington, D.C., home on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections.
“Literally, they can tell who’s been in a Catholic church and how frequently,” Bannon added. “And they got it triaged.”
…CatholicVote planned to use the data to send targeted get-out-the-vote ads on election day telling Catholics that it was their duty “to support President Trump,” according to Bannon.
…CatholicVote would not say more about how the group collected and used data in 2018.
The technology Bannon was alluding to is called “geofencing” or “ring-fencing.” It’s become popular over the last several years with advertisers, campaigns, and advocacy groups that want to find people who may be receptive to their message.
When Klayman asked Bannon, on-camera, where he got his data from, he answered, simply, “the phone companies.”
“And the data guys sell it,” Bannon added.
…Geofencing creates a virtual fence around a geographic location, allowing data brokers and digital marketing firms to either serve ads to people while they are inside the fence or capture their phones’ unique IDs for later use. The ads themselves appear in apps or on websites as the person uses their phone, whether they’re served up while the user is in the geofenced area or at a later date.
…Here’s how geofencing information is collected: Our phones constantly give up our locations. Experts who spoke with ThinkProgress said there are several ways that brokers can collect that data. One method estimates the location of a phone based on the cell towers it pings as it looks for a signal. In other methods, some of a smart phone’s apps collect location data from its GPS chip or the wifi networks it connects to. Many of the biggest app makers then monetize that data, selling it to brokers and digital ad firms.
…In 2017, Copley Advertising settled with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office after it used geofencing to help anti-abortion groups target ads to women who visited Planned Parenthood clinics.
…The New York Times reviewed some of the location data that app makers sold to a broker, the paper was able to identify individual users and track them to a Planned Parenthood clinic, a middle school, an emergency room, and to their homes and offices.
The technology news site Motherboard went a step further, paying a bounty hunter to locate a specific phone in Queens, New York, after T-Mobile sold the user’s location data, gleaned from cell towers, to a broker who then re-sold it to third-party dealers.