In The Media

Smith campaign blames contractor for unsolicited email blast

by Meghan Potkins (feat. Tom Keenan)

Calgary Herald
October 10, 2017

Mayoral candidate Bill Smith says a third-party contractor working for his campaign is to blame for an unsolicited email blast that went out to a number of people in Calgary.

Smith said he was prompted to look into the incident after he heard about complaints from people surprised to have received a Thanksgiving-themed email from the campaign reminding supporters to vote in the advance polls, volunteer or donate ahead of the election on Monday.

“We have a third-party provider for tracking data. They do work for other campaigns and things like that,” Smith said Monday. “They had sent out the emails and accidentally attached an additional list to it and that’s really all that happened.

“It wasn’t intended to be distributed to other lists, but I think we’ve got the matter sorted out.”  

Some Calgarians who received the message Monday said they believe they were contacted through email addresses they had provided to the United Conservative Party or the former Progressive Conservative party. 

Calgarian Guy Greenaway said his teenage daughter received the Smith campaign email after recently purchasing a membership with the UCP.

“There is no question in my mind that her membership (information) got transferred over to the Bill Smith campaign,” Greenaway said, adding that his daughter hasn’t given out her real name and email to any other businesses or organizations besides the UCP.

“One of the things that’s distressing is just that your information is being passed on,” said Greenaway, who also received the email. 

“The more distressing thing is that there is a conversation going on about whether there should be partisan politics in our civic elections. I don’t think that there should be, but I think that the conversation should be out in the open. It shouldn’t just be lists passed from one place to the other.”

Smith stopped short of apologizing for the error Monday but said they have spoken with their contractor to address the matter.

“Believe me, we’ve had them taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” said Smith, who declined to identify the firm they’ve employed.

And while there are federal anti-spam laws on the sending of unsolicited commercial email, the law doesn’t necessarily apply to political communication in the same way.

“It’s not an obvious (Canada anti-spam legislation) violation,” said Tom Keenan, a University of Calgary professor and digital security expert.

Keenan said it’s impossible to overstate the value of voter data to political campaigns.

“Canvassers who go door to door in some campaigns already have on their iPad which households are friendly and which are unfriendly.

“Data is definitely gold in terms of political information.”


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