Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why is the Labour Party Spamming Me?

Dear Labour Party,

Why do you keep sending me emails? What makes you think I’m interested in what Ed Miliband is doing? More importantly, why do you think we’re on a first name basis.

I’m a journalist, yes, and I cover both technology and often politics, so you’d expect I might be sent press releases but no, these are not press releases. They’re campaign statements, see (this one arrived yesterday):

The big question I have to ask you is “Why do you think this is acceptable?

The secondary one is “Where did you get my information from?

While these might seem like silly questions to ask, there is actually a point behind it. See, I’m Ben Jones, of TorrentFreak.
HOWEVER, I am only Ben Jones AT TorrentFreak.

Like my Editor (Ernesto van de Sar), and our lead writer (who went by the name Enigmax), Ben Jones is a pseudonym. It is not used on social media, it doesn’t sign up for things, and it’s certainly not registered to vote. I, Ben Jones, exist only as the TorrentFreak-facing mask of my creator, here (on Google’s services), on TorrentFreak.com, and on Piracyisnotacrime.com (as well as a number of related journalism sites)

So, with that in mind, how did you get my information? My email address doesn’t hint at my name, so you’ve had to have specifically searched for it. In fact, the answer is simple. You did a very naughty thing and hoovered up lots of people’s emails.

See, when I search back, the first unsolicited email I found was this one, from three years ago. In it, there’s a great fanfare that Ed Miliband had been ‘invited’ to join Google+, and that I should add him to my circles. See:

Frankly, I couldn’t give a damn about Ed Miliband, or the Labour Party. I was one of the tens of thousands of students shafted by the New Labour government between 97-10. I grew up under a Labour council, and had to deal with classmates being hit with chunks of ceiling as the school buildings literally disintegrated around us, until it was unsafe for entry, while libraries were shuttered and abandoned with irreplaceable historical books left to moulder in the ruins. The 'New' Labour party of today is a far cry from the Labour of the early 80s, when the likes of Militant actually had a backbone - I may not have agreed with them either, but I at least respect that they had principles, and stood by them.

Why you ever thought that scouring Google+ (or wherever you did get your lists from) was a good idea, I’ve no clue. Did someone seriously suggest this as an idea, and you thought it would be a good one? And sure, you say you "won't pass on your email address to anyone else" but you don't mind people passing on email addresses to you, do you?

And yes, sure, I could have clicked ‘unsubscribe’, but I shouldn’t have to. This account is not a person. Ben Jones can’t vote. Yet you sure sucked up what you felt were my details, and have proceeded to use them.

As the revelations continue to come out regarding domestic surveillance, this kind of email list generation just seems worse and worse, doesn’t it.

Of course, it might just be that you’ve have bought the list from another company. In that case… you’re still in the shit. There’s absolutely no excuse for buying such lists, and any list that has this name and email address on it, was not obtained in a legitimate manner.

So, we have two options -
  1. you’re compiling email lists using less than ethical data collection methods, or
  2. You’re buying your lists from companies that also act less than ethically, and you didn’t bother to check.

Neither option is really very good for the Labour Party as a brand, nor is it the best way to advertise yourself as ‘the party of the future’, or one that can both care about, and handle, technology in the way that’s required for the 21st century.

Now, from yesterday's email, you want all kinds of access to people's facebook accounts? Why yes, I think that's a splendid idea, because as we can see, you've clearly got a good handle on the whole 'privacy' and 'leaving personal information alone' thing. You want access to their facebook account, so you can slurp data and use it how you want.


Just No.

And this whole 'grab and use' strategy makes me wonder just how many of those photographs that will be displayed, are from people that actually gave you permission. It's not such a stretch, after all, to go from "grabbed my email somehow and started using it" to "grabbed my facebook profile pic and started using it"

So, I think it’s time for you to come clean, apologise, explain what and how you got these email addresses for your lists, and start learning how to be responsible with technology, and then maybe you can understand that privacy is important. You'd have thought they'd understand, but I guess no-one bothers to think about Harman v United Kingdom any more.


Ben Jones
TorrentFreak writer.