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Snapchat admits it allowed Democrats to access Republican voter data

Conservative groups also gained access to opposition data, but Democrat-aligned groups benefited the most from Snap’s gaffe.

SHARE Snapchat admits it allowed Democrats to access Republican voter data
The Snapchat app on a mobile device in New York on Aug. 9, 2017.

The Snapchat apps on a mobile device in New York on Aug. 9, 2017.

Richard Drew, Associated Press

Snap Inc. executives say they inadvertently gave Democrats access to a cache of Republican data. The company’s blunder allowed Democrats to better tailor their ads to reach right-leaning voters for the upcoming midterm election.

Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, released data by Republican firm i360 into its political ad records where multiple Democratic organizations accessed the information. There’s no evidence Snap was aware of the oversight, Axios reported.

A spokesperson for Snap told the news outlet, “We take full responsibility for this mistake, and as soon as we became aware of it, we notified the two Democratic and Republican vendors who were equally impacted, and took action to correct the issue. We are also taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Two data firms, i360 and TargetSmart usually make their vast libraries of voter information, which is linked with consumer data, available to organizations that are aligned with the parties they back. 

According to Politico, i360 is a Koch-funded data company, started by one of John McCain’s former campaign advisers, which “links voter information with consumer data purchased from credit bureaus and other vendors. TargetSmart is a smaller data company, and the Democratic counterpart to i360. Both companies offer valuable information about income, addresses, brand loyalties, TV viewing habits and more.

The social media company says a limited number of Republican groups also used data from their opposition. TargetSmart had its data accessed by Daily Wire, a conservative media outlet. Although both sides’ data was compromised, it appears Democratic organizations benefited the most.

The publicly available Snapchat political advertising data shows that only 0.95% of impressions (ads views by Snapchatters) were linked to i360 data, and 13.97% of impressions were linked to TargetSmart data-driven ads. Since many more Democratic and progressive aligned advertisers use Snapchat ad services, they stood the most to gain from the mixup.

The Democratic National Committee, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign in Georgia all inadvertently accessed i360’s data, which allowed the use of vast amounts of conservative information when targeting ads at viewers, according to Axios.

Snap is supposed to get the prior approval of third-party vendors before making their data available to the opposition, and typically uses pre-approved lists that exclude organizations with adversarial views.

“Unfortunately, due to an internal mistake, we didn’t follow this usual process — which resulted in these two companies’ services being used by advertisers outside of the process, impacting a small number of ads,” Snap’s spokesperson told Axios.

Snapchat’s political advertisement policy states “our discretion will never be exercised with the intent to favor or disfavor any candidate, political view, or political party.”

According to Reuters, Snapchat has followed the lead of Facebook and Google in the public disclosure of political advertising, and Twitter has banned political ads outright, in an effort to address public backlash toward false and misleading claims in political ads.

With many political campaigns underway, this data error (potentially affecting 564 million ad views) raises questions about the ethical and security implications of highly targeted personal data being traded and sold around the web, and how it affects elections.