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Are Obama and Romney’s campaign sites leaking personal information?

President Barack Obama and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s campaign sites are leaking personal information of visitors on their sites to third-party trackers. So says Jonathan Mayer, a computer science and law graduate at Stanford University. This comes after both campaign parties said that they had safeguarded their respective sites against such breaches.

According to Mayer, third parties operating on the site have the opportunity to collect identifying data that includes a user’s username, street address and ZIP code, and even the proper name under which someone would register on Obama’s site. Romney’s site contained information that consisted of a unique ID number and the users’ actual name.

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BarackObama.com and MittRomney.com use third-party web trackers that, like ad networks, collect information from users to target specific political ads tailored to the users interests and beliefs. As reported earlier this week, both campaigns have said they do not “share” individual citizens information to third parties.

In his blog post on 1 November 2012, Mayer wrote: “Are the campaigns identifying their supporters to third-party trackers? Are they directly undermining the anonymity properties that they are so quick to invoke? Yes, they are. I tested the two leading candidate websites using the methodology from my prior study of identifying information leakage. Both leak.”

This comes after The New York Times reported earlier this week that Thomas Goddard, a community college student in Santa Clara, California, started receiving political ads from Romney’s campaign whenever he logged online, even though he is not a Romney supporter. This was after he visited the presidential hopeful’s site to find out about his views on abortion. At that stage, both campaigns stated that information collected is “anonymous”, using code numbers and not real names.

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