A smart phone’s “Airplane Mode” or “Ringer Off” setting does not protect people from privacy invasion. What’s worse, the privacy invaders are lurking in malls, at public events, even outside your place of worship.
According to National Catholic Reporter, political marketers in support of Donald Trump are increasingly using cellphone data from churchgoers to target voters, especially white Catholics and evangelicals in key states for the 2020 presidential election.
Geofencers capture data from the cellphones of churchgoers and then purchase ads targeting those devices. This data can then be matched against other easily obtained databases, including voter profiles, which give marketers identifying information such as names, addresses and voter registration status.
They say all politics is local. One lobbying group, Catholic Voice, openly brags about its geofencing abilities:
We’ve already identified 199,241 Catholics in Wisconsin who’ve been to church at least 3 times in the last 90 days. So they are “active” Catholics. The faith is obviously a priority for them — and most importantly, their conscience is active and the Holy Spirit is at work! But here’s the critically important thing we discovered. Over half of these people — 91,373 Mass-attending Catholics — are not even registered to vote!
Did you happen to miss Mass last week? Your priest may have not noticed, but the GOP’s marketing operatives noticed. Unless you opted to turn your phone off. There’s always the off position, and it’s the best option in many settings.
By the way, in 2008, NBC rejected a CatholicVote Super Bowl ad that used President Barack Obama’s upbringing in a single-parent home as an argument against abortion.
Retailers Too, They’re All Up In Your Phone
If you read the trades, the excitement about geofencing is palpable.
Retailtouchpoints.com is one among many who sing the technology’s praises and point to its widespread adoption by some of America’s most well-known brands. Here’s a quick recap from their site:
- McDonald’s recently connected geofenced billboards to its in-app advertising on Waze to achieve 6.4 million mobile impressions and prompt consumers to visit a nearby location during their drive.
- A Volvo Dealership in the New York Tri-State metro has utilized geofencing initiatives to target consumers in luxury markets and competitor dealerships, as well as consumers within their own dealership, to achieve a 140% increase in foot traffic.
- Nordstrom utilizes geofencing to identify when loyal customers are within the store to offer hyper-personalized customer service.
Retailers might like geofencing, but lawyers don’t love it. Charles Harris at McGuireWoods LLP writes:
As novel uses of geofencing proliferate, those seeking to make use of this powerful tool should tread carefully, especially when individuals are targeted based on inferences about sensitive personal information such as their health status or their location at sites specially protected under the law such as polling stations and health care facilities.
New laws are in place in Europe and in California to protect consumers, but the best protection is education backed by vigilance. When you’re in public, your personal computing devices are subject to hackers who want to steal your identity and to marketers who want to move you to buy or believe, at or near the point of sale.
Mobile users can use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), or as I mentioned above, the smartphone’s off position is a low cost and common-sense solution with an incredibly high rate of success.