Monday, August 10, 2020

On risky responses

Plenty of people have taken note of the Saskatchewan Party's "Kate" data collection scheme - and it's given rise to much due mockery, as well as some important recognition of the underlying system. But if it's true that the Sask Party's plan for now is to blast messages out to mobile numbers, it's worth noting how any direct responses to the scheme may lead to election-campaign mischief.

If indeed the marketing group behind the messages knows nothing about respondents besides the randomized number dialed initially, then even a humorous response provides some significant data.

Presumably most of the texts will go without responses. As a result, anything written back is likely to be read, and to mark a recipient as having an interest in Saskatchewan politics. And any negative or mocking response figures to flag the number as being linked to someone less than enamoured with Scott Moe's government.

Which is a problem, since systematic information about non-supporters can be an extremely dangerous thing in the hands of a political party's third-party operatives.

For the primary Canadian example, one need only look to one of the associated companies of the Sask Party's contractor, which employees exposed as having called non-Conservative voters with false information about polling station relocations. That led in turn to an investigation which stalled only due to an issue in proving the specific intent of the people ordering and making the calls - but which confirmed both the calls themselves, and the Cons' awareness that they would include incorrect information. 

Lest there be any doubt, it's entirely fair and normal for political parties to seek to contact voters for both persuasion and voter identification.

But it's also well worth noting how any information can be misused in the hands of unscrupulous operators - particularly when the Saskatchewan Party seems to see no issue putting its voter outreach in the hands of a group responsible for past misinformation. And Saskatchewan voters will need to be aware of the risks of handing them the data to make a voter suppression scheme work.

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