What’s That Database Worth?

Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal investigates the value and possible future uses of President Obama’s massive “data trove.”  Here’s a quick rundown of the data at stake:

Mr. Obama’s campaign collected 13.5 million email addresses in the 2008 election, according to people who worked on the effort. Officials say the list has grown since then, but officials won’t say by how much.

The campaign also has lists of volunteers, including the names of neighborhood team leaders who were the most active supporters. A donor database has names of millions of people who made small campaign contributions. Campaigns aren’t legally required to report the names of people who give less than $200 total, and these donors haven’t been made public.

Meckler reports that Obama’s staff plans to enlist supporters’ help in getting the President’s agenda passed, but is still debating what to do with the data over the long-term.  Staff are considering giving the data to the DNC or creating a new organization to house and update the data. “It goes stale,” said Laura Quinn, the president of Catalist, a Democratic data firm. “You have to continue to use it, synthesize it, store it, house it. It’s expensive. It’s quite a big enterprise.”  

Freakonomics readers, what do you think?  What’s the best use of Obama’s massive database?

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  1. redslime says:

    Assuming he has legal ownership, he should keep it and use it for his post presidency advocacy work. Its not like he will go away in four years.

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  2. Seminymous Coward says:

    They could, you know, delete it, having likely only received most entries with the expectation of their use being exclusively related to Obama’s reelection.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 62 Thumb down 0
    • RGJ says:


      Did all these people opt in ala spam laws, or is politics exempt?

      My other thought is that given current technology drift, emails are going to be about as effective as telephone pole flyers by the time the next election rolls around.

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  3. Dave says:

    I’d like to see it cross-referenced with the so-called 47%. Did he really win because of promised freebies?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 8
  4. Brian says:

    If they are interested in ‘sharing’ it with the DNC they should setup a campaign to send a few emails out asking people to opt in to a DNC database. Otherwise, the Obama campaign is going to lose a lot of their good will.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 31 Thumb down 0
    • Jeremiah Stanghini says:

      This is a good idea. I just assumed that it would be passed on to the DNC, but based on your comment and “Seminymous Coward’s” comment, it does seem unfair to simply hand the list of email addresses over to the DNC. Though, I wonder what the text said when folks signed up for emails from the campaign. That is, maybe they explicitly said that their email address may be used by the DNC. Who knows.

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      • Brian says:

        From the donkey’s mouth:
        “What Personal Information Do We Share With Third Parties?
        It is our policy not to share the personal information we collect from you through our Sites with third parties, except as described in this Policy or as otherwise disclosed on the Sites. For example, we may share personal information as follows:

        – with vendors, consultants, and other service providers or volunteers who are engaged by or working with us and who need access to such information to carry out their work for us;
        – with candidates, organizations, groups or causes that we believe have similar political viewpoints, principles or objectives; ….”
        Source: http://www.barackobama.com/privacy-policy?source=footer-nav

        Of course being that it took me 5 minutes of reading to find this and most people won’t bother, you still run the risk of upsetting people if the whole list is just turned over. Best practice is always to help the DNC seed their own and manage their own list.

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  5. Lloyd says:

    It occurs to me that this database (DB) would be worth a lot of money to national, state, and local democratic campaigns. It should be worth some significant money now ($xx,xxx); but if maintained, mined, updated, etc. it could be worth more in 2013-2014 runs; and even more in 2015-2016 runs ($xxx,xxx). If the DNC took responsibility for the database, it could rent info to local and statewide runs in 2013-2014 getting returns on the money spent to acquire and maintain the DB, and update the data after that election with a current and ongoing renting-updating cycle for each election run thereafter. Very Powerful then.

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  6. ra goldstein says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 17
  7. Kevin P. says:

    Obama didn’t build the database. Someone else did.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 47 Thumb down 7
  8. PrivacyAdvocate says:

    Make it public. Call it an economic stimulus. Advertisers would make billions targeting this credulous audience.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 25 Thumb down 28
    • RGJ says:

      I think it is screwed up that the software for this site hides a comment with 16 thumbs up and 22 thumbs down. The driving force of Freakonomics is the unpopular opinion fought out to carry the day through logic. This isn’t a place where majority should rule and censor.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2
      • Seminymous Coward says:

        PrivacyAdvocate was trolling, as evidenced by his “credulous” dig and ironic name. Such is not generally considered to be particularly useful or clever. If he were serious about making the list public, he should have provided an argument for his position and restrained himself from cheap shots.

        To be clear, I actually agree with your core point; I just think you chose a strange place to make it.

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      • RGJ says:

        Disagree, defend the right, Voltaire, etc.

        Perfect place to defend it since I have never seen a comment with that close a positive/negative balance blocked.

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