Canada’s 2021 Election: Digital Privacy & Election Advertising

Canadian political candidates for the 2021 federal election

Picture this: you’re scrolling through recipes for dinner, looking for the perfect one, and then you notice the advertisements on the side of the page. They’re all promoting the same political party that also sent their flyers to your house. It could be a coincidence, right?

Well, it’s not that simple.

It’s important to understand that millions (and sometimes) billions of dollars are spent on election advertising for campaigns. That might seem like a lot to spend, but political parties have become very adept at cashing in their investments using targeted, science-proven ad campaign methods. These ad campaigns include setting up cookies, monitoring time spent on a page, ad clicks, URL data, and other forms of tracking that land squarely in a legal grey area.

As we’ve seen in the past decade though, these complex ad campaigns have included a lot more than just science: they’ve also dabbled into privacy laws and ethical issues. One key example is the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which was actually exposed by a Canadian reporter. Cambridge Analytica ended up violating numerous privacy laws by collecting the Facebook data of millions of people, with the intent of swaying the results of the U.S. election. All of this data was used to build voter profiles and create targeted ads, campaign speeches, and rallies.

Not only is data collected from social media profiles, but location data from cellphones is also being compiled, making the whole election process even more invasive. As part of Canada’s plan to protect personal data, Bill C-76 was enacted in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This bill requires all parties to develop specific policies and procedures for protecting individual privacy, and to publish these so the general public has access to them. 

Unfortunately, this bill still has some major loopholes. First, it does not require any political party to report data breaches, meaning that the 28 million people whose personal data was compromised in 2019 were never made aware of the fact. Second, it does not mandate any specific forms of data protection, meaning that the 64 percent of 2020 candidates who didn’t store data properly are actually in no way obligated to do so. And thirdly (and most importantly), Bill C-76 does not put the responsibility of pressing charges on anybody. If there was a serious data breach, there is not only a lack of legal obligation to prosecute the involved election candidates, but there is also no one to carry out the prosecution.

Knowing that the election race is very tight, data privacy has become a bit of an awkward discussion. A recent survey has shown that less than a quarter of Canadians are aware that the Canadian electoral system collects extremely sensitive data during federal elections, such as email addresses, ethnicity, and social media pages. What’s even worse is that nearly half of Canadians polled said that the collection of these data points is unnecessary for political democracy, meaning that they are somewhat or very reluctant to consent to their data being released into the ether. As the federal election draws to a close and Canadians head out to the polls, it is important that all political parties and candidates reconsider how they collect data so as to increase voter turnout and engagement.

As a digital marketing agency, Tiny Planet Digital values the rights and privacy of others. This is especially important for both individuals and the businesses we consult, as it is important to both protect your own privacy and respect that of others. Worried about unwanted data collection or ad tracking? Then book your free consultation with us now to discuss how to better protect personal data!

This blog post was written by Frida Kitz