The Conservative Party is one of the largest political parties in the UK. They’re center-right politically (by European standards), nationalist and pro-business. You’ll often see them called the Tory party or Tories – a pejorative nickname they acquired 350 years ago.
While they’re part of the ruling coalition today, there’s a general election coming up in the next couple of weeks and they’re, well, campaigning aggressively. A group of 500 small business owners co-signed a letter to the Telegraph (a mainstream UK newspaper that supports the Conservatives consistently enough that it’s widely known as the Torygraph) expressing strong support for Conservative economic policies and drumming up votes for the election.
So far, nothing unusual. So why am I talking about it? And why am I talking about it here, on an email blog?
As people began to look at the letter, the story began to unravel. First, the letter was published on the Telegraph website as a PDF – and the PDF metadata showed it had been written by the Conservative’s press office, not a group of small businesses.
Then it turned out that many of the signatories seemed to have signed it multiple times, each representing slightly different company names. Somebody didn’t dedupe their purchased list, it seems.
When contacted, many of the signatories denied signing anything. Several of them did mention receiving email (spam?) and clicking on a link.
I am beginning to have very serious doubts as to how many of even the legitimate businesses on the list actually signed anything. Aurum Solutions have issued a statement. Their sales director received an email from Brady “and recalls clicking on the link to find out more”. That’s it. He does not recall signing anything and denies strongly providing any information about the company. Could it be that this was merely an aggressive piece of spamming, where database entries referring to people and their workplace were signed up to this shambles at the mere click of the link?
— Alex Andreou (SturdyBlog)
So it seems to have been a poorly targeted email campaign – apparently some part of which was spam to purchased addresses given the recipients – that used the personal information of people who clicked through as signatories on a piece of political theatre.
There’s a lot more data and discussion at SturdyBlog and also a storify of some of the relevant tweets. The “Grant Shapps” you see mentioned throughout is the SEO Spammer / Conservative Party Chairman.
What’s the email-related message to take away from all this?
- Political email campaigns stretch – and break – the boundaries of acceptable behaviour worldwide, not just in the US
- Just because someone has an email address @example.com does not mean they can speak on behalf of Example Corporation
- If you behave deceptively and annoy enough people someone will uncover and publicise your deception
- Uninformed clickthrough is not consent