Election Campaign Communication is More Targeted than Ever Before

My last post was a response to an email that I received from the leader of the Liberal Party. I had been shocked to get a personal message about their ‘policy’ on usage-based billing for the Internet seemingly out of the blue. Of course, I got the note as a result of a petition I’d signed. My name address was in a new database. Since then, as many of you know, we Canadians are going back to the polls and email address databases are a primary tool for reaching voters.  While the television and radio ads are at a new emotional (read: offensive) level, I think ‘one-to-one’ or personal communication is also changing in a profound way. While this might be a good thing, we need to think about what this kind of targeted communication means for personal privacy.

This morning I received an email from the Conservatives about the very same issue. (I’ll post it below.) Of course, I’m a bit miffed that I’ve got email coming to my work account, and that the letter is to a ‘sir or madame’ (at least the Liberals attempted to get my name right). But really, it’s got me thinking about the new level of focused campaign communication enabled by the Web, data mining and the lack of cyberspace privacy. The Internet use billing issue is only one issue, albeit an important one in my mind. I suspect every issue–or, at least, the ones with the most money at stake–has a team behind it crafting ‘the message’, creating the e-mail address distribution list from the various petition sites, and hitting send. I wonder if they’ve got folks who are going to respond to the messages? (If I can ponder what all the capital discourse in the email means for us, I think I will go ahead and respond just to see what happens.) In the meanwhile, I think I’ll start planning a more intense segment on privacy and ethics for my social media classes. I’d really like to know if you think it’s ok for professional communicators to use personal email addresses that were provided in good faith, and without knowing they would be available for distribution, to target political communication, or any promotional purposes for that matter. I’ll use your thoughts as fodder for discussion in my classes (consider that fair warning, ok?!)


-Here’s the offending note-

Dear Sir or Madam:

Thank you for expressing your concerns regarding usage-based billing (UBB)
for Internet services.  It is essential that I hear the views of Canadians
on the issues that matter.  Prime Minister Harper and I have been clear
that we cannot support imposing a UBB business model on wholesale Internet
service providers.

Our government recognizes that the Internet and digital technologies are
an increasingly important part of everyday life—including driving
innovation, commerce and social interaction. As the government develops
Canada’s first comprehensive Digital Economy Strategy, we need to look
carefully at how issues like UBB affect the big picture.  We will be
guided by our long-standing policies of encouraging competition and
investment, increasing consumer choice, minimizing regulation and allowing
market forces to prevail.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has
chosen to examine these concerns that the government shares with a large
number of Canadians.  Details of the CRTC consultation are available at

When the CRTC reaches a final decision following its consultations, the
government will carefully assess the CRTC position to ensure that it is in
line with the best interests of Canadian consumers and encourages
competition among internet service providers.  I will be recommending that
any decision counter to these foundational principles be reversed.
You can find the latest news on the government’s Digital Economy Strategy
and related issues at www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/ic1.nsf/eng/h_00008.html.

Once again, thank you for writing.  I trust that this information is

Yours sincerely,

Tony Clement


2 thoughts on “Election Campaign Communication is More Targeted than Ever Before

  1. DeNel –
    Had an interesting recent experience along these lines. A company with which I have a personal and professional relationship sent an email to me that I thought was spam and I was going to report it as such. A client at the company assured me it wasn’t spam. It was a legitimate “newsletter”. I was puzzled for two reasons. The first was that the company said they would never contact me by email and that I should treat any email from them as “phishing”. So, why had I received this legitimate newsletter? That’s the second reason. Turns out, one of the products I used from this company on a personal basis had one of those negative option clauses in the mice-type agreement that said they could send me marketing material. Another group at the company used that “relationship” to build their distribution list. And that big promise not to email me? Well that came from a completely different group in the company. Oh, the silos and the bubbles they go round and round, signifying nothing.

    1. I find that troubling, Patrick. Troubling, but not surprising. I think “variations of privacy” going to be a topic throughout my social media courses this summer!

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