Written by Kiran Stacey, filmed and edited by Gregory Bobillot
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The 2016 presidential election was, in many people's minds, the election of Cambridge Analytica. The first time that political parties realised they could target tiny sections of the electorate online. So if that was the technology that defined the last election, what kind of technology will define the 2020 election?
Well, I've been asking political operatives here in Washington that question, and one thing that keeps coming up as an area of interest is so-called relational organising. This is the idea that campaigns will use their own activist lists of friends and family members, and get them to get their message out that way. That of course is not a new idea, but in the era of the smartphone, campaigns are getting much more sophisticated about the ways in which they can target your family and friends.
Several democratic candidates have developed apps which that activists can download. Those apps will then, with the activist's permission, create all of the contacts from that person's phone and compare those contacts with its own list of people who might vote for that candidate. If it finds a match between those two lists, it suggests to that activist that it send a message to the member of their family or a friend who might think of voting for the candidate.
And in fact, they have so much data on those people, they can suggest individually tailored messages, designed specifically to hit that particular person's preferences or views. Now, the campaigns themselves stress that all this is being done with their activists' express permission. But if you get a text from a friend or family member or colleague or acquaintance during this campaign urging you to vote for one candidate or another, bear in mind that candidate's campaign might know more about you than you realise.
Now, each week I try and answer a different question from a viewer from a previous blog. CHF GBP asked a question about the Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei, and essentially wanted to know what has happened to the lawsuits that were filed against the company by the US Department of Justice. Now, I think that what CHF GBP is referring to here are the cases against Huawei for violating US sanctions against Iran and stealing technology from T-Mobile.
And the answer, I'm afraid, is that not a lot has happened. We did have a ruling this week in the case, which was that the court ruled that the lead Huawei lawyer on the case, James Cole, had a conflict of interest - because he had previously worked for the Department of Justice - and so couldn't remain on the case. But one year after these charges were filed, we're still at this stage, where both sides are arguing about who exactly can argue the case on their behalf.
The wheels of justice turn slowly and particularly so in a case as complex as this. Thank you very much for that question, and if you have a question on this topic or any other, please leave it in the comments below.