The Surprising Digital World of 2020 Presidential Candidates

Kristina Podnar
Sep 12, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo by Carl Heyerdahl

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump made headlines when he embarrassed Jeb Bush by purchasing the domain www.jebbush.com and redirecting traffic to his own website.

Not buying www.jebbush.com was an embarrassing oversight, but it was a very small “oops” in the grand scheme of things. Since then, the sirens and flashing lights of the digital world have been getting louder, as awareness of digital risks grows.

Governments and private-sector companies across the globe have been quick to respond with standards and legislation, but our 2020 candidates, including our current president, seemingly oblivious. And their lack of concern affects every American.

Putting digital risk in context

These are just a few of the biggest data breaches that occurred over the last few years and the number of people affected:

In case you don’t have your calculator handy, that’s 339,000,000 people — roughly 10 times the population of California.

Now…the rest of the story

How their websites stack up

  • Most of the candidates’ websites aren’t copyrighted. That means other candidates, average citizens, or even the Russians could steal their position papers, circulate altered versions of them, and the candidate would have no legal recourse.
  • While the rest of the world is embracing privacy as a human right, many candidates’ sites don’t even have a privacy statement disclosing what information they collect and what they do with it. Of those that do, the readability of those statements according to the Flesch-Kincaid readability testis well above the recommended seventh-grade reading level. That means that the privacy statements are more complex than the average user can understand, something that violates the core principle of privacy statements. Even though the U.S. has been slow to formalize privacy requirements into law, one would expect presidential candidates to see the way the wind is blowing and jump on board.
  • While all of the candidates’ websites use cookies to some degree, none of them comply with widely accepted standards on giving consumers a choice. While Elizabeth Warren’s site does let users opt-out, the fact that it’s set to “opt-in” by default falls short of these standards and would even be a legal violation in some countries.
  • Only Elizabeth Warren’s site contains an accessibility statement, expressing her intent to make the site accessible to all Americans (note that this is not a claim to have actually done so). Since courts have ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to digital spaces as well as to physical ones, this should be a top legal concern for anyone running for president.
  • For those whose websites contain Spanish content, most are doing a very poor job. Politico stated that they seem to be using Google Translate, “a trick used by high school students to avoid doing their Spanish homework.” Such superficial attempts are likely to turn off the very voters they’re trying to court.

Are we going to let the inmates run the asylum?

We have to demand more of our leaders, and that starts with demanding more of our candidates. Their websites are about a decade behind basic digital security and privacy standards. Should we now entrust our most critical digital assets — like the electrical grid and nuclear plants — to someone from a pool of candidates who can’t even get their own websites right?

Unless the presidential hopefuls get their digital act together, it doesn’t look like we have a choice. But I, for one, will make digital practices a priority when choosing the candidate who gets my vote.

Data Driven Investor

from confusion to clarity not insanity

Thanks to Data Driven Investor

Kristina Podnar

Written by

Digital policy innovator, helping organizations see policies as opportunities to free the organization from uncertainty, risk, internal chaos.

Data Driven Investor

from confusion to clarity not insanity

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