In 2018, Steve Bannon teamed up with a group called Catholicvote to acquire mobile phone location-tracking data to identify people in Iowa who'd visited a Catholic church and target them with political ads.
Bannon revealed that he'd purchased the data in a deleted scene from The Brink, a documentary about Bannon's life and political tactics. The scene was viewed by Thinkprogress, who have reported out the story.
Bannon boasted to the documentary's director that "If your phone’s ever been in a Catholic church, it’s amazing, they got this data. Literally, they can tell who’s been in a Catholic church and how frequently. And they got it triaged."
A spokesperson for Catholicvote called Kathleen Storen said that the data the organization used "does not allow you to collect personal information" and then said, essentially, that everyone else does it too.
Regardless, as Karl Bode points out, this kind of data collection is generally illegal even though the carriers have aggressively sold the data off and Trump's FCC has refused to stop them.
The campaign that Bannon and Catholicvote ran was largely a failure. As Thinkprogress says, "Democrat Abby Finkenauer beat out Republican incumbent Rod Blum by 51% to 45.9%, while Republican Kim Reynolds held on to the governor’s mansion."
“This is terribly disturbing. This is like a total infringement on everybody,” said Sister Gwen Hennessey, a Franciscan sister and longtime social justice activist in Dubuque.
“I have not used it to target religious groups specifically, and I will say that, for me, morally that seems like a step too far,” said one executive at an advertising firm that regularly uses geofencing, who asked not to be named. “But it doesn’t surprise me.”
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.
Catholics in Iowa went to church. Steve Bannon tracked their phones. [Joshua Eaton/Thinkpogress]
Steve Bannon The Latest To Abuse Consumer Location Data [Karl Bode/Techdirt]
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