Time for some horse trading

Dear “next” Prime Ministers of Canada, Messers Mulcair and Trudeau:

It’s time to take action. Mr. Harper has spent the last two weeks taking control of the election campaign by throwing “dead cats” into the debate, and the result has been an ugly, racist media bloodbath about niqabs and terrorism. Both of you talk about avoiding fear-based politics, and this is nothing if not just that. Both of you are failing to prevent this fear-mongering. It’s time to throw your own cat on the table. A live one.

What “live” cat would that be? Strategic voting. Or maybe it’s an elephant in the room, not a cat. Everyone is talking about strategic voting; it’s everywhere in the media, both social and traditional. There are numerous grassroots strategic voting campaigns commissioning their own polls to enable it. Yet, both of you are largely silent on the subject.

This is understandable. You are both in this to win it, and talking about strategic voting injects some doubt into your messages. But let’s face some facts. A majority of voters see your parties as roughly interchangeable. A majority of voters think it’s more important to get rid of Stephen Harper than it is to elect either one of your specific parties. If polls are to be believed this majority is roughly 60%: the number of voters who count Liberal and NDP as their #1 and #2 votes.

So, it’s time for some strategic horse trading. Ali Kashani has identified 16 ridings where the Conservatives have a narrow lead over one of your parties, and the other party is significantly behind. These are all ridings where a Conservative victory is likely unless something changes, and none of them are three-way races. There are 8 Conservative-Liberal races, and 8 Conservative-NDP races. Both of your parties stand to gain 8 seats at the expense of Harper’s Conservatives, and in the process, one of you will likely win a minority government at Harper’s expense.

To gain these seats, you need to endorse strategic voting, and in some small way, each other. You both need to acknowledge that, while you would like your party to be elected, you would rather see each other in opposition than Mr. Harper. And, in doing so, you would need to cooperate to trade these 16 ridings between you. Have the weaker candidate endorse the stronger, and both of your parties will be better off, to say nothing of the citizens of Canada. Mr. Kashani has laid out the details in this Medium article here: https://medium.com/…/there-is-actually-a-way-to-guarantee-h…

If you truly want to derail Harper’s politics of fear, and re-take control of the campaign, I can think of no better way of re-taking control of the debate than by mutually endorsing each other in certain key ridings. Suddenly, instead of talking about niqabs, the conversation will shift to how the NDP and the Liberals have done the unthinkable: They are *cooperating*. They are acknowledging what every progressive voter in the country already knows: Harper is poison for this country.

The media will eat this up. The media has been reporting on strategic voting for nine weeks now. They have been reporting the same story for nine weeks because they know it gets attention. They know people care about this issue. Imagine what that media coverage would look like if you actually gave them something to report on. Imagine how many other voters would reconsider your parties because you are actually giving people what they want to see.

There is no downside here, except that you will both have to eat some pride. So, I’m calling on both of you: Please, just pick up the phone and have a conversation. See what you can work out. You don’t have to make it 16 ridings — your own internal polling is probably far more accurate than any publicly reported numbers. But, those close Conservative battles exist for both your parties. I’m sure you can figure out which ridings deserve cross-party endorsement.

I look forward to a Canada led by one of you as Prime Minister. Please, help each other make it happen. As a voter, I *desperately* want to see the two of you cooperate. I don’t care about your ideologies, or your platforms. I care about electing people who will work with others and make the right decisions. I can’t think of a better way that either of you can demonstrate that than to acknowledge the elephant in the room, and to work together for a better Canada.

All the best,

Devon Cooke
Vancouver South

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Is Rogers Selling your Location Data?

Is Rogers Selling your Location Data?

There’s a rule of thumb about clickbait headlines that says if the headline is asking a question, the answer is no.  Except in this case, the answer is yes.  Yes, Rogers is definitely selling your location data.  They are selling your location data even if you are not a Rogers customer; the fact that they run Canada’s largest cellphone network, and one of Canada’s largest ISPs gives them access to pretty much anyone’s location, regardless of whether or not you do business with them.

Who are they selling it to?  We already know that Rogers (and every other Canadian telecom) will give your location to law enforcement.  Michael Geist reported that

three [Canadian] telecom providers alone disclosed information from 785,000 customer accounts in 2011. Moreover, virtually all providers sought compensation for complying with the requests.

It’s not clear how many of those requests include location data, but I wouldn’t bet against the answer being “most of them”.  We already know that Rogers is selling your location to law enforcement.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.  Law enforcement’s ability to track your location is a scandal in its own right, but these days, it’s old news.  At least law enforcement has the (dubious) justification that it helps them catch “bad guys”.  But Rogers isn’t just selling to law enforcement.  In fact, they are selling your location data to me.

Now, just to be clear, I have not actually purchased any location data.  But I could if I wanted to.  The data is definitely for sale, and it’s not for any lack of effort on Rogers’ part that I haven’t made a purchase.

I run a small business. That means I’m on more spam lists than I care to admit, and I receive calls on an almost weekly basis promising to put my website in the top 10 results on Google.  Most of these are obvious scams, but recently I received a call from a more professional-sounding organization called Rogers Outrank.  For some reason, I agreed to a half-hour sales call to talk about what Rogers could do to promote my business.

I won’t bore you with the details of the sales pitch.  Suffice to say that they made the usual promises to put me on the front page of Google’s search results (something Google might be interested in, since their advertising partners are not supposed to guarantee natural search results), and they provided extensive tools to generate sales calls from those results.

One of those tools caught my attention.  You can see why in this screenshot from their sales presentation:

Outrank Call MapThis is a map of inbound calls for the campaign.  The red pin is supposed to be the location of my business.  The blue pins represent people who have called the number associated with the sales campaign.  You can drill down and get more detailed information about each caller, including address.

Where does this information come from?  My friendly Rogers salesperson had the answer:

So the map is really cool because it lets you see where your leads are going to be calling you from, so if they use a landline, or from a desktop computer, they track the IP address to let us know where that person is calling from, and if it’s a mobile, it’s tracking GPS.

The salesperson assured me I would get this information regardless of who their service provider was:

Same idea, whether they are with Bell, Telus, Koodo — whatever other providers they are — we make sure that when anyone with any sort of brand is looking for your service, our goal is just make sure they are finding you, regardless of whether they are a Rogers client or not.

Let me say this loud and clear:  This is creepy.  Rogers is selling me the location data of anyone who calls my number, specifically so I can make decisions about how to sell them my services.  As a salesperson, that’s really useful, but it’s not an option I should have.  As a citizen and a private individual, I don’t want my whereabouts to be available to someone who is selling me something.  I don’t want that information to be available to anyone, and Rogers shouldn’t be selling it — especially when I have no business relationship with them.

Now, a few provisos:

  • It’s a salesperson, so the technical explanation of where the information comes from may not be accurate.  For mobile information in particular, I think it’s more likely that the location data comes from tracking SIM cards via cell tower triangulation than directly accessing the cell phone’s GPS.
  • Likewise, the salesperson doesn’t say outright that I can get addresses for people who don’t use Rogers … he simply implies that “their goal” is to provide me with useful information.  But, the map is pretty telling, and I made a point of asking how reliable the information on the map was.  He was pretty clear that I could expect to get reliable location data for all my incoming calls.
  • They aren’t selling location data as a separate product.  Technically, Rogers is selling a marketing service, which includes location data as part of the service.  I can’t buy the location data separately.
  • Locations are for inbound calls only.  That means I can’t just ask Rogers to track a given phone number; I only get locations for people who I have somehow convinced to call me.  But, Rogers’ product is marketing.  Their service is specifically designed to convince people to call me.

So, is this legal?  I have no idea; I’m not a lawyer.  I’d love to hear someone like Michael Geist chime in.  My guess:  Probably, it’s technically, arguably legal.  Rogers has plenty of cash to spend on lawyers.  The fact that they are only selling data from incoming calls probably comes with some sort of implied consent.  I have no idea how they would get around the fact that non-customers’ data is being sold (and thus, there can be no contractually-waived rights), but lawyers are smart.  I’m sure they’d figure something out.

Is it ethical?  Hell no.  Selling my location, without my knowledge and consent is wrong.  I pay my phone company because communicating by phone is a useful, almost essential service.  I understand that that privilege entails letting my phone company know where I am, and, by extension, any other phone company whose customers I talk to.  I understand that it’s not really possible to build a phone system if you don’t know the location of the phones you are calling.  I entrust the companies that run the phone system with my location because it is impossible to build the system without that information.

Selling my location to external parties — making my location public knowledge — is a violation of that trust.  Rogers is taking advantage of me.  They are taking advantage of you, and everyone else who uses the Canadian phone system.  My location does not need to be public knowledge for the phone system to function.  It is being made public purely because it is profitable for Rogers to do so.

I wish I could say I knew what to do about this.  It’s easy to say “don’t use a phone”, but it’s hardly a practical solution.  It’s possible a lawsuit could help stop this particular practice, but that only solves this specific issue; it doesn’t solve the structural issue of abusing private data for profit.  It’s possible an industry regulator — the privacy commissioner? — might be able to do something if I complain loudly and often enough.

Honestly, I think the most effective tool is probably public shaming, which is why I wrote this blog post.  My hope is that other people — you — will read this, and agree Rogers is doing wrong.  And I hope that you will share this post with other people, so those people know what Rogers is doing.  Rogers is selling our location data.  Their public image should reflect the reality of what they are doing.