FLASHBACK: Obama Campaign Tech Officer on Data Collected by Campaigns: 'I Don't Necessarily Know If It's Creepy'

March 20, 2018

The Chief Technology Officer of Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign told "PBS Newshour" after Obama's win that he didn't "necessarily know if it's creepy" how much data the campaign was able to collect.

Facebook is currently under fire after acknowledging last week that data firm Cambridge Analytica harvested information from 50 million Facebook users without their consent. The firm was later hired by President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.

While the news has drawn outrage from Democrats, an Obama campaign alumna said this week that Facebook knew of the team exploiting user data in 2012 to help the campaign's outreach and let it go on since "they were on our side."

CTO Harper Reed said in 2013 that it was important to find ways for Facebook users to influence their friends to support Obama because it "was more genuine."

"How important were Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to the campaign?" host Laura Ashburn asked.

"It's really interesting to look at 2008 versus 2012, because in 2008, a lot of these things were just starting...they were new toys," he said. "As more people use these, as more people, America starts using these, they're incredibly important, as you can imagine."

"And are they important because when you get friends, followers on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr, amplifying the campaign's message, is that better than hearing it from a politician?" Howard Kurtz asked.

"I think it's more genuine," Reed said. "Like if I share to you, and we're friends on Facebook, then you listen to what I'm saying a little bit more than if somebody who's very far away shares to we're just able to have it be re-shared or retweeted or followed."

"At the speed of light," Kurtz said.

Ashburn noted one critic who said the amount of political data collected by the campaigns in 2012 was "creepy."

"I don't necessarily know if it's creepy," he said. "One of the things that I thought was really exciting about the campaign is a lot of the data that was gathered was given to us by the users or by the volunteers, so it's self-reported."

He gave the example of those who logged into to contribute or volunteer, and if they did so via their Facebook account, they were asked if they were willing to share their data.

Time report after Obama's victory in 2012 dissected how the campaign linked up with young voters and turned out their vote; one key way was an app that connected them to more than 1 million backers and their "friend lists."

"That’s because the more than 1 million Obama backers who signed up for the app gave the campaign permission to look at their Facebook friend lists," the article stated. "In an instant, the campaign had a way to see the hidden young voters. Roughly 85% of those without a listed phone number could be found in the uploaded friend lists."