Data Exploitation in the German Elections

Many thanks to the students from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin for their collaboration and research which forms the basis for this piece, Rika Melke and Luisa Zimmer.

In the lead up to the 2017 German federal elections, campaigners, journalists and the public thoroughly discussed the benefits and dangers of data analytics for political purposes. (Jungherr, Andres: Datengestützte Verfahren im Wahlkampf, 2017.) According to the final report issued by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) on 27th November 2017, the German federal elections, in principle, ran transparently and without manipulation. Despite this, there were some controversies concerning the use of data and the lack of information provided by political parties also raised certain concerns. For example, it was reported that a Deutsche Post subsidiary directly sold personal data to clients including German political parties;  the Christian Democrats party also developed an app for use in canvassing, which created a feedback loop between party headquarters and door-to-door volunteers, and that drew on data from the federal statistics office and polling agencies; and, the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) reportedly hired a Texas-based company for their campaign in order to use digital ads to micro-target Germans whose backgrounds made them likely converts.