In 2018, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon used location data from smartphones to target church-goers with get-out-the vote advertisements, according to a new report from ThinkProgress Friday.
“We’re sending a message from CatholicVote, not to go vote for a specific guy,” Bannon said. “But for all Catholics to go out and do their duty and they’re going to put out a thing to support President Trump.”
The concession came from a now-deleted scene from The Brink, a documentary by Alison Klayman focusing on Bannon’s efforts to mobilize the far-right throughout the 2018 midterm elections. In an interview with Klayman, Bannon says that he worked with the conservative group CatholicVote to use location data obtained from carriers to target ads to people who had recently been to Roman Catholic churches in Dubuque, Iowa.
“If your phone’s ever been in a Catholic church, it’s amazing, they got this data,” Bannon reportedly said. “Literally, they can tell who’s been in a Catholic church and how frequently,” Bannon added. “And they got it triaged.”
When asked how he received the data, Bannon told Klayman, “the phone companies.” He continued, “and the data guys sell it.”
Over the past few years, it’s been no secret that advertisers were purchasing location data from carriers. In 2017, the state of Massachusetts settled with a firm called Copley Advertising after it helped anti-abortion groups use geo-fencing to target women who had recently visited Planned Parenthood clinics. In January, Motherboard reported that it was able to pay a bounty hunter a couple hundred dollars to track a target to only a few blocks away from their actual location.
After the Motherboard report surfaced, Congress reached out to the Federal Communications Commission requesting an explanation as to why carriers were able to sell data to brokers without any kind of recourse. According to Ajit Pai, the agency had been investigating the sale of location data for some time, but the FCC has yet to produce any reports or findings as part of that investigation.