Social media giant’s ‘internal mistake’ gave Democrat orgs user data on Republican voters

News & Politics

Democrats reportedly tapped into a treasure trove of data on Republican voters after a “slip up” at a major social media platform allowed Democrats to access the data.

What happened?

Social media platforms allow advertisers to hyper-specify who sees their ads, thus giving them the best possible return on investments. To accomplish this, advertisers rely on information collected by data firms, which sell the data to wanting customers.

Two of the leading firms that provide data to advertisers on Snapchat are TargetSmart, a Democrat-leaning organization, and i360, a Republican-leaning firm. Each company allows political organizations to purchase its data, but reserves such transactions for groups that share its partisan views.

But, according to Axios, a “slip up” on Snapchat recently gave multiple Democratic organizations access to i360 data.

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Those organizations that benefited from the “slip up” include:

  • The Democratic National Committee
  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
  • The Planned Parenthood Action Fund
  • Democrat Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign

The “accident” is significant. Possessing data on Republican voters would allow the Democratic organizations to specifically target users they believe might be open to persuasion.

Importantly, the “slip up” did not allow the organizations to access data on Snapchat users; it only gave authorized access to i360 data when Snapchat’s internal protections to prevent unauthorized use of data failed.

What did Snapchat say?

A spokesperson for Snap Inc. blamed the issue on “an internal mistake” and minimized the significance of the problem.

“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,” the spokesperson told Axios.

“We take full responsibility for this mistake, and as soon as we became aware of it, we took action to correct the issue, notified the two vendors, and are working to rectify payments to each of them,” the spokesperson added. “We are also taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Meanwhile, a representative for i360 said the company “did not authorize this use of its data, and its agreements with advertising platforms like Snap do not allow for the use of its political data by these organizations.”

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