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Are presidential candidates tracking your Facebook profile?

Facebook is offering new tools for political candidates, and your personal account could be used in the process. For the first time, Facebook is allowing campaigns to track users’ political comments and likes to create a master list of target voters and potential donors. Ashley Parker, reporter for The New York Times, joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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    Facebook is offering new tools for political candidates, and your personal account could be used in the process.

    For the first time, Facebook is allowing campaigns to track users' political comments and "likes" to create a master list of target voters and potential donors. Facebook has 189 million monthly users in the United States.

    To discuss the implications of this is New York Times reporter Ashley Parker.

    So, what can they do besides that one feature now that they couldn't do four years ago?


    There's a ton they can do. One of the biggest things is now Facebook allows campaigns to upload their voter file, which is the list of basically voters they hope to target and turn out to vote, to Facebook, so they can reach them there.


    So, let's walk through that. I hand in an e-mail address if I go to a political event to a particular speech, right? And then, what does the campaign do with that?


    Well, not only that you hand in an e-mail address or a campaign will have a little bit of code on their Web site where they track you, and they can see when you came to their Web site, you clicked the donation page and maybe gave a donation, or maybe you sort of learned a bit more about the candidate and visited the candidate's energy page so they know you're interested in energy.

    So, they have your e-mail address. They have this other information about you and then they can literally sort of follow you over to Facebook and they can know that you, specific user, who has this e-mail address and who cares about energy is also on Facebook, and they can also then overlay Facebook's data.

    So, maybe Facebook knows that in addition to those things, you watch FOX News a lot and you went to a certain college and you live in a certain state like Iowa or New Hampshire.

    And then they can target you with a very specific ad, knowing that you're likely an Iowa caucus-goer who cares energy and watches FOX News and is friends with these people. And you sort of get this ad in your stream and it's directed exactly to you and your interests.


    So, this is a big shift. I mean, it used to be that advertising was about reaching the most amount of people possible. Now, it's — we don't really care to reach the most. We just want to reach the ones that could turn into voters for us.


    Exactly. As Facebook says, it's sort of about reaching the right people in the right place with the right message.


    And if you're in a household, really, there are multiple Facebook accounts that could be using the same computer, so they can — I'm imagining — target with different kinds of ads or different people could be targeting you.


    Yes, absolutely. And another innovation in addition to the targeting is Facebook has really improved their video feature. They sort of launched a new video feature in — last year, and they had about a billion views of video per day, and now, less than a year later, they have 4 billion views.

    And one of the things that that does is their video now sort of starts auto-playing. So when you're scrolling through your feed, whether you click on a video or not, a Facebook video will literally just start to play.

    And so, Facebook is saying this is a big advantage for the campaigns because people will see these videos and they might not have clicked on them, but maybe the video catches their attention and they stop and watch.


    Short of not using Facebook what is end users' privacy options if I don't want to be inundated with political ads on Facebook on my phone, just like I am on TV for the next year?


    It's tough. Facebook does have some various privacy settings which users can control. But at a certain point, I think some users may not even realize how much campaigns and Facebook together know about them.

    So, if I'm a visitor and I'm visiting Scott Walker's Web site, I don't necessarily know that Scott Walker's campaign has embedded a little bit of code that will let them track me when I go to Facebook. So, I might not know to go into my privacy settings to try to change something because I have no idea I'm being tracked at the level I'm being tracked.


    All right. Ashley Parker from The New York Times, joining us from Washington — thanks so much.


    Thank you.

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