Saturday, April 28, 2018

Wait, those terms of use actually mean something?

Yes, they do

The Cambridge Analytica issue has once again raised questions about how online data is collected and used. But it’s nothing new – not for advertising or marketing, and not for political parties.

Ever since the installation of private voting booths, political parties have been seeking ways to predict voters’ votes. No longer could a party just listen to your vote voiced orally and publicly – it actually had to develop methods to figure out if, when, and how you were voting.

Parties don’t literally have access to a list of how you voted (unless, of course, you tell them), so they need to rely on demographics, analytics, and statistics to figure out how you might vote so they can treat you accordingly.

Using data to predict this is nothing new or nefarious. Shopping for Votes, Get out the Vote!, and The Victory Lab are just a few books about how political parties try to get feedback on what’s important to you and whether you’ll support their party.

It’s a fact of life for all major political parties. Glen McGregor wrote about how the NDP and Liberals were playing catch-up to the Conservatives’ databases leading up to the 2015 election. Obama’s 2008 campaign was social media and data driven; his 2012 campaign even more so. Googling “Obama campaign micro targeting” returns 417,000 results about how the campaign used several forms of data to learn everything they possibly could about voters. The Obama campaign:

“established a huge Analytics group that comprised of behavioral scientists, data technologists and mathematicians. They worked tirelessly to gather and interpret data to inform every part of the campaign. They built up a voter file that included voter history, demographic profiles, but also collected numerous other data points around interests … for example, did they give to charitable organizations or which magazines did they read to help them better understand who they were and better identify the group of 'persuadables' to target.”

The Liberals’ 2015 campaign hired a number of Obama’s data experts, and we know how that turned out.

How do political parties get this data? Through publicly-available sources, you give it to them.

There are the obvious ways parties attempt to contact you and/or garner your attention: they knock on your door asking to consider voting for their party; they phone you asking what you think about the day’s issues facing the country; they email you urgently telling you the country will fall apart unless you give a small donation; and, yes, they use social media to make the same predictions.

That’s where the Cambridge Analytica story comes in. While there are legitimate legal and privacy questions to be answered (was the initial data acquired or used illegally, how should our data be acquired and used, should there be government oversight, and so on), it is not surprising that parties collect this information in the first place.

How does it happen?

Elections Canada provides all federal political parties with the National Register of Electors annually. This register is updated, in part, through tax returns filed with the Canada Revenue Agency.

Canada’s three major federal parties have privacy policies that state how they will handle personal information. (All three parties’ policies apply to personal information, which they define as being about an identifiable individual. In other words, it does not apply to information that does not identify an individual.)


We obtain the information that you choose to give us. You may do so in a variety of ways including:

·         When you visit our website for the purpose of becoming involved with the party as a member, volunteer or donor
·         When you subscribe to our communications
·         If you register at an event or at a Party convention
·         If you complete a registration or donation form either electronically or on paper
·         If you complete any other form on a Liberal website, including online petitions.
·         It is also possible that your information could be provided to us by a volunteer or friend who thinks you would be interested in getting involved with the Liberal Party.

The information that we collect may include:

·         Contact and identification information, such as your name, address, telephone numbers, e-mail address and social media contacts.
·         Donation information such as date and amount of your donation.
·         Financial information that we need to process your donation e.g. payment methods and preferences, billing and banking information (e.g. credit card number and expiry date).

… Given that the Liberal Party is a national organization, personal information may be shared internally, for instance between the Party and its provincial and territorial boards as well as electoral district associations (riding associations). In addition, we may engage third party providers to perform tasks on our behalf such as processing your donation, making phone calls and providing technical services to our website. When information is shared with third parties for these purposes, we include privacy protective clauses in written contracts to help safeguard personal information.”

“Elections Canada provides all political parties with a list of electors, including names and postal addresses. We collect other information from publicly available data.

We collect personal information from donors and members when they contribute to our Party or purchase a membership. You may also choose to provide us with personal information on a voluntary basis, such as when registering for an event or signing a petition. We are required by law to keep records of donors for tax purposes.

If you submit your e-mail address and/or personal information through our website, you consent to being added to our e-mail list. You may unsubscribe from our e-mail list at any time using the link provided in each email message, or by clicking here.”

“We collect the personal information that you choose to provide to us when you become a donor, a member, when you voluntarily subscribe to our communications, when you register for an event or sign a petition either in person or online, or when you complete any of the forms on If you submit your email address and/or personal information through, you consent to being added to our email and/or contact list.

… We use your personal information to communicate with you about the NDP, to provide you with news and information about the NDP and our activities, and to contact you about your past and future donations and membership.

… We may engage third parties to provide us with services from time-to-time, such as hosting servers and websites, processing online donations, or providing technical or communications services. When information is shared with third parties for these purposes, we ensure that your personal information is rigorously protected by including privacy safeguards in all our contracts, including stringent confidentiality and non-disclosure provisions.”

Each of the parties has privacy policies that outline how personal data is used. They are publicly available for all to see and read. They’re the terms of use for communicating with a political party.

The services we all know and love have their terms of use too – you know, the ones you clicked through when you were registering for your Facebook or Google account? It turns out they actually mean something.

Facebook outlines what they collect, how they use it, and how it’s shared. Included in their policy is this statement:

“Apps, websites and third-party integrations on or using our Services.

When you use third-party apps, websites or other services that use, or are integrated with, our Services, they may receive information about what you post or share. For example, when you play a game with your Facebook friends or use the Facebook Comment or Share button on a website, the game developer or website may get information about your activities in the game or receive a comment or link that you share from their website on Facebook. In addition, when you download or use such third-party services, they can access your Public Profile, which includes your username or user ID, your age range and country/language, your list of friends, as well as any information that you share with them. Information collected by these apps, websites or integrated services is subject to their own terms and policies.”

Google also has a privacy policy that outlines how they collect, use, and share information. Included in that policy is this statement:

“Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection.

We may combine personal information from one service with information, including personal information, from other Google services – for example to make it easier to share things with people you know. Depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google.”

And Google may:

“… share non-personally identifiable information publicly and with our partners – like publishers, advertisers or connected sites. For example, we may share information publicly to show trends about the general use of our services.”

Again, these are all terms we agree to as a condition of using their services. Political parties – whether they’re referred to as partners, affiliates, marketers, or some other term – use the data collected under these policies in order to determine your political priorities and whether you might support them.

“Big data” is how we receive targeted ads. It’s how Amazon knows you were recently looking for a new comforter and offers you a discount. It’s how a store once famously predicted a woman was pregnant based on her purchases before even she knew.

Anyone with a Facebook page can use Ad Manager to target their audience. Have a dog walking business and want to target everyone within a 5 mile radius of your business who liked a dog-related Facebook page? No problem. It’s not surprising that parties use the same tools to glean information on how you might vote.

If we’re asking questions about how online data is being used, collected, and stored, we should first ask ourselves the obvious question: are they just using the data we gave them?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Desperate Liberals attempt to link Andre Marin to Donald Trump with fake quiz

The Liberals are desperately attempting to hold onto the one-time Liberal stronghold of Ottawa-Vanier against former Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin.

After the embarrassing loss to the Progressive Conservatives in the former Liberal stronghold of Scarborough, apparently the Liberals are getting a little more aggressive and desperate. Apparently that desperation has now spread into creating smear jobs posing as "quizzes" on Buzzfeed.

A quiz was created on November 7 asking whether it was Donald Trump or Andre Marin who gave certain quotes.

But by November 8 the quiz was deleted, but you can still find it by clicking here. As you can see below, it was nothing more than a disgusting attempt to link Marin to Donald Trump.

And no, this wasn't some random Liberal supporter. The official Ontario Liberal Party Twitter account bragged about their "quiz" to Ottawa Citizen journalist David Reevely:

2018 can't come soon enough. And if you live in Ottawa-Vanier, go vote for Andre Marin on November 17.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Liberals have dragged national anthem into a debate of process

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald

Why shouldn’t Canada’s national anthem be changed? 

It’s quite simple: “in all thy sons command” was written to honour the Canadian soldiers (yes, Canadian men) who died during World War One. It’s not sexist or exclusionary to recognize what should be a proud but somber moment of Canadian history – as Barbara Kay opined three years ago.

But if such a concise explanation can be offered in two sentences, this debate would have long been over, and the Liberal Parry wouldn’t be using a dying MP to push its agenda.

Instead, the debate has become larger than Canada’s national anthem: it’s become about the Liberals’ abuse of parliamentary process. The Liberals have broken almost every rule in the book to shove these changes through Parliament without giving Canadians a say.

As Conservative MP Peter Van Loan pointed out during third reading debate on June 10, the Liberals have broken almost every rule as they ram this bill through the Commons. The bill was referred to the heritage committee and, on less than 48 hours’ notice, could call but one witness to testify about the bill – for about 40 minutes. That was enough, declared the Liberals, who shut down any other witnesses or any other dates to hear testimony.

And when normal things happened – like Conservatives using their rightfully-allocated time to actually debate the bill, or standing rules requiring that the bill’s sponsor be present to move their bill – criticisms ran wild, condemning the “blocking” of this “dying MP’s” private member’s bill.
Not once did the Liberal government consult with Canadians about whether they want to see their national anthem changed. Many reasonable questions can be asked of this bill:

  • Is it “time” to change Canada’s national anthem? Why? Why not?
  • Shouldn’t Canadians have a say in determining their national anthem? Whether that means the ability to appear before a parliamentary committee or a nation-wide referendum, shouldn’t Canadians get something?
  • With heavy Liberal government support, why are national anthem changes being pushed through a Private Members’ Bill and not a government bill?
  • If the national anthem is indeed “open” for modernization, what about references to God? Native land? What about the French version’s references to Christianity? Where does this insanity stop?
  • Since when does an MP’s health status influence the urgency of his or her pet projects becoming law?
Unfortunately, these questions cannot be asked or answered because the Liberals won’t allow them. Interestingly (for many reasons) it will likely take the Senate once again standing up to the government to put its foot on the brakes and say “hey, slow down.”

As Van Loan pointed out, he was initially in favour of making the lyrics “gender-neutral” and was prepared to support the Conservative 2010 Throne Speech that would have done just that. Remember, just six years ago the Conservative government was in favour of doing the same thing. The difference is that the Conservatives did it right: the non-partisan Governor General announced the intent and the government was prepared to hear from Canadians on the issue. And hear from Canadians they did: within 48 hours they heard from thousands of Canadians, and some estimates say 90% of that feedback was to keep the anthem as it was.

That should really drive home the point that such crooked tactics by the Liberals have tainted this bill and made it unsupportable.

What do Canadians think about it this round? According to this poll with almost 27,000 responses, 91% are in favour of keeping the anthem as it is. Could there be polls showing more or less support? Yes – but we won’t know if the government won’t allow testimony or hear evidence.

Canadians should be disgusted with the Liberal government for dragging Canada’s national anthem into this debate – on the back of a dying MP. If this bill passes and the national anthem is changed, its legacy will forever be that it was forced through Canada’s Parliament – against all rules – without hearing from Canadians. Is that what Mauril Belanger wants to be remembered for?

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Trudeau Exceptionalism Doctrine

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald

The Trudeaus aren’t like the rest of us.
Most of us aren’t endowed with $1.2 million inheritance funds, $1 million Mercedes sports cars, $20,000 watches, or attractiveness so dashing as to distract from almost any substantive questions of the Trudeau government.
These are just statements of fact – not envy. And these observations aren’t new: we’ve long-known that the Trudeau family is exceptional. This isn’t illegal or terrible, and we shouldn’t punish wealth. But Justin’s belief that he’s exceptional and special should not extend into the public sphere of how government and Parliament are run.
Since becoming Prime Minister, this exceptionalist attitude has crept into the public square, damaging Parliament and offending the sensibilities of otherwise reasonable Canadians. Call it the Trudeau Exceptionalism Doctrine.
The first hint of the Trudeau Exceptionalism Doctrine was when Trudeau – the supposed champion of the middle class – hired personal nannies for his children as if they were staffers of the Prime Minister’s Office. Canadians were confused. “Shouldn’t your $340,000 salary cover child care for your kids? Can’t your wife – who has no official role and is not a government employee – look after your kids?” were just two of the many reasonable questions asked during that period. But the Trudeaus are exceptional, and so the $100,000-per-year NannyGate controversy subsided.
More recently, we saw Sophie GrĂ©goire complain that she was overworked and needed “a team” of assistants. The personal assistant, the family chef, and the two taxpayer-funded nannies are just not enough. She needs a larger empire. But the wife of the prime minister has no official role; she’s not Canada’s First Lady and she’s free to act as she chooses, whether taking up employment, a speaking circuit, or being a full-time wife and mom – but we shouldn’t pay for it.
As I was writing this column, I wrote that the most egregious example of Trudeau Exceptionalism was Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc’s recently-tabled motion to give complete control of the House of Commons’ agenda to the Liberal cabinet (formally known as “Motion 6”). This exceptional motion would completely remove any say the Opposition Conservatives or NDP might have in determining the House’s affairs. It would have required the Opposition to be on-call, 24/7, at the absolute whim of the Liberals to control the House of Commons. The motion was retaliation for the embarrassment that occurred on May 16, where a Liberal bill was almost defeated because not enough Liberal MPs had showed up to work that Monday morning.
At least, I was going to write that that was the most egregious example of Trudeau Exceptionalism, until the evening of May 18, 2016, when the now infamous “Elbowgate” incident happened. Growing impatient waiting for Members of Parliament to vote on the assisted suicide legislation, Trudeau rose from his seat, reached through a crowd of MPs, and forcefully grabbed another MP by the shoulder, striking a female MP in the process. It was disgraceful, unparliamentary, and blatantly unbecoming of any member of Parliament, let alone a prime minister. Never before in Canada’s history has a prime minister assaulted two MPs on the House floor. It was exceptional: an immature child whose impatience and temper got the best of him, and ended with two MPs being physically accosted. (The government withdrew Motion 6 as a result of the fallout from Trudeau’s conduct.)
That the Trudeaus believe they’re exceptional isn’t new. What is new is that Trudeau’s exceptionalist attitude has tainted how the Liberals are running Parliament. And that should concern every single Canadian.