Update: See Seth Oldmixon’s response to this development, CampaignGrid’s Patent Sets Dangerous Precedent.
Big news in the online political advertising world:
The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued Patent No. 8,763,033 to Audience Partners for its proprietary technology allowing political campaigns to target digital advertising using voter registration records and a host of other data….
The patented technology provides the ability to use publicly available voter registration records and political demographic data such as party affiliation, voting history and political geography to target and place advertising and messaging across millions of websites, mobile apps and multiple digital devices including addressable TVs.
Audience Partners is the parent company of Republican-focused political advertising firm CampaignGrid, and what we’re talking about here is voter-file cookie-targeting, as you’ll see in the patent details below. As Anna Foley wrote in C&E, “The patent, which the company filed for in August 2011, could have major financial implications for Audience Partners and its rivals if the company is able to enforce it.” Damn straight!
This technology is now widely used by digital political advertisers to reach voters with highly targeted messaging, particularly within the tight geographic boundaries of congressional and legislative districts. Honestly, I’m no fan of companies patenting business practices that others may also have been developing in parallel (in August of 2011, several firms currently specializing in the practice had already launched or were on the verge of doing so), since it often feels like an unfair restraint on competition and the free flow of ideas.
Plus, it’s not as though voter-driven voter targeting is new: as one Democratic Insider Familiar With The Situation told me, “Hot damn! I guess I should go patent door-knocking, phonebanking and direct mail based on a voter file before someone else snaps them up.” Indeed, and also note that we haven’t even touched on the potential partisan angle.
But business is business, and filing for the patent looks like a shrewd move by Audience Partners/CampaignGrid. Naturally, none of the political advertising vendors I spoke with would go on the record to talk about the matter, but I suspect that we’ll be seeing some pushback once the cease-and-desist letters start flying. Cue the lawyers!
More about the Patent
Excerpts from the patent application, which you can also read in full:
A method for targeting messages to voters comprising the steps of:
- receiving at a server a first plurality of records for a group of voters, each record comprising political demographic information associated with individual voters within the group of voters, wherein at least one record is associated with a first voter and wherein the political demographic information comprises information from voter registration records associated with each voter;
- determining the likely identity of the first voter browsing a first website;
creating a cookie at the server that correlates a browser of the first voter to political demographic information associated with the first voter using a processor;
- sending the cookie to the browser of the first voter across the internet,
wherein the cookie is configured to allow subsequent association of the political demographic information with the browser at a second website.
This technology is particularly well-suited for, but by no means limited to, web-based advertisement by political campaigns, as well as associating politically important demographic information with individuals as they browse the web, without exposing personal identifiable information about that individual. One such example is associating a browser user with a cookie that includes or is associated with political demographic information. Another such example is associating a unique ID of a mobile browser, such as a phone number, sim card, or hardware identifier, with political demographic information.
Embodiments of the present invention provide a solution that associates geographic and demographic data including location information with a user.
Read the full patent, and watch this space! We have not heard the last of this fight.
If the practice was indeed in use before the 2011 priority date, this will not hold up, however, the press seems not to understand patents vary well. If this specifies a particular way of implementing this process that was not in use, then it may very well stand.