Minister for junk mail

Careful, your MP wants your email address

Spam

Oliver Dowden, MP for Hertsmere, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party and unlikely attack dog in the Culture Wars, has a new, slightly demeaning job. He’s been tasked with adding names to the Conservative Party’s email marketing list. He’s doing this by attacking some Labour politicians for supporting the the RMT’s strike action. Nothing new about attacking organised labour, of course, but Dowden’s approach is unusual and quite possibly unprecedented – he’s started a petition which will apparently be delivered to the opposition Labour party.

The eccentricity of this approach: a governing party – and one with a 75-seat majority in the House of Commons – petitioning the party that is currently out of power for action in an industrial dispute – will not have escaped you. But the oddball logic will become clear if you actually try to complete the petition. It’s a fake petition. You’ll find that, although you’re offered two options (condemn the strikes, don’t condemn the strikes), whichever way you vote you’ll be required to provide an email address and agree to receive email ‘about the Party’s campaigns and opportunities to get involved’. Boom, you’re on the list.

This kind of data collection mechanic disguised as a campaign has, as you’d expect, been imported from US politics, where Donald Trump and others have been building huge email and telephone databases and surveilling voters via similar devices for years. In this country, political parties are governed by data protection regulations just like other organisations and this petition looks legit but you may want to take your usual precautions against the kind of epic quantities of spam that political parties routinely produce.

Top tip: if you have one, use a special email address when you’re obliged to sign up for junk mail in this way – we have one which deletes all email before we even see it.

And don’t forget that the Conservatives have form when it comes to dodgy online marketing. There was that time they broke Twitter’s rules by pretending to be a ‘fact checking’ organisation and that other time when they were fined £10,000 for breaking data protection law.

Of course, whether it’s a dignified thing for a prominent politician – one who until not long ago was an actual Minister of the Crown (he was replaced by Nadine Dorries) – to be grubbing around for qualified leads for the party’s junk mail department is another matter – one we’ll leave to Mr Dowden’s conscience.

If you’d like to sign it, the ‘Stop the Strikes’ petition is on the Conservative Party web site. The Information Commissioner has detailed guidance for the use of personal data by political parties.

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