Have you heard about data mining? No, we hadn’t either. But now that we know about it, we’re concerned.
Have you noticed a huge spike in con artists calling to scam you out of your hard-earned money? Like folks asking for your license and credit card info to get the ICBC gas tax rebate?
We certainly have. It’s because Canada is a free-for-all for data miners and scam artists.
The rules are weak, and there’s almost no chance you’ll get caught.
Every move you make on the internet leaves a trace. That means opening a website on your laptop. Or watching shows on your smart TV. Buying something on Amazon.
And every move you make on your phone also leaves a trace. For example, your phone sends signals to cell towers. It pings off the WiFi in the mall. And your phone apps send data to each other about the sites you visit and the people you text.
These traces have a few names. Digital footprint. Data shadow. Data exhaust. It’s all the bits of information that you leave behind.
Remember this saying: “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” That is especially true in Canada.
That means if you’re getting an online service for free (like Facebook, that Hotmail account, or Candy Crush), then your data is the product. And data miners are tracking you.
And some of the worst data miners are political operators.
Canada has crappy, ineffective laws to protect people’s private online data. Some rules protect info about what you buy with your credit card. But hardly any cover your social media and online activities.
Our MPs in Ottawa have decided even those crappy rules don’t apply to them. How convenient. And they have access to sensitive voting info that no one else has.
So they can combine their sensitive voting data with your digital shadow to create super-powerful databases that know virtually everything about you.
And who is among the worst abuser of these data mining practices?
Political operators like the guy Pierre Poilievre just hired.
You know Pierre Poilievre. He’s the acid-tongued candidate who just became the leader of the Conservative Party.
Wonder how Poilievre generated so much media and buzz on the way to winning a landslide victory? Perhaps it’s because he ran the most aggressive online campaign.
Poilievre tried to distance himself from the old leader. Erin O’Toole was criticized because he flip-flopped and changed his tune to appeal to whatever audience he was talking to. So Poilievre branded himself as the Anti-O’Toole candidate.
And yet, Poilievre has hired O’Toole’s former campaign manager to run his digital campaign, Jeff Ballingal.
Wait—Poilievre hired O’Toole’s data guy?
Jeff Ballingall’s company, Mobilize Media, advertises digital strategies that help its clients harvest “troves of data” to guide a campaign.
Ballingall is also the founder of Canada Proud and Ontario Proud, which have 400,000 and 446,000 followers on Facebook and tens of thousands more on Twitter and Instagram.
You, or someone you know, may be one of these followers.
Did you know that you would become a product when you clicked the Follow button on Facebook?
Ballingall reportedly used these lists for his clients. For example, during the last Conservative leadership race, Ballingall was caught uploading his lists of Proud followers onto Facebook to recruit new members for O’Toole.
DidPierre Poilievre use similar tactics?
No one knows. And that’s not good.
Canada needs stronger laws to protect people’s privacy and prevent our online actions from becoming a product that gets traded amongst powerful elites. And we need to ensure that politicians and political parties follow the same laws as everyone else.
But it’s unlikely that any current political parties will take the lead in tightening the rules themselves. Would you make new rules that take away your data mining advantage?
It’s up to us to force politicians to respect our privacy and not use data mining for their shady plans.
Politicians already get too many special privileges. They shouldn’t be allowed to violate our privacy, too.
Note: This is an update of an article that originally appeared in May 2022.