Canadian Government Funded Group Spamming Canadian Negotiators on NAFTA

It ain’t gonna spam itself. Spoiler alert: it’s the same group involved in recent EU cyberturfing on Copyright Directive.

The Problem: 

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada provided funds to one of the Google backed astroturf groups engaged in a spam email campaign against Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland. The emails urge her to reject the NAFTA treaty based on objections to IP provisions that would strengthen rights of Canadian artists.

Yes, while Freeland is facing a difficult negotiation with the US, the Office of the Privacy commissioner appears to be making it even harder by helping undermine her efforts.

It is very important that Canadian policy makers take a hard look at this group (Open Media) and ask the OPC why they funded this group in the first place. As we have seen in US on FCC net neutrality hearings, this sort of spamming activity by the likes of Open Media seems designed to overwhelm the channels through which ordinary constituents communicate with government officials. It drowns out the voices of ordinary citizens, and replaces them with robotic corporate and special interest crafted messages. It is appalling that the Canadian Government funds a group that is using tactics The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has called “political hacks.”

A Little Background On Open Media and What Happened in Europe.

In the last few weeks, The Times of London, The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and this blog have written extensively about the Vancouver BC group OpenMedia.Org and it’s role in spamming the EU parliament as they voted on the new Copyright Directive. By “spamming” we mean tweets, robo calls, fake emails and even faxes. These pre-formatted communications often contained misleading or outright false claims about the copyright directive.  Unfortunately this “cyberturfing” campaign worked and Open Media was able to fool enough MEPs into thinking there was a genuine grassroots backlash, they voted to push back deliberations on the copyright directive.

More importantly the fake grassroots uprising established a false narrative that the law was “controversial” and would do terrible things it does not in fact do.  Factually incorrect claims about banning memes and jail time for The Beatles were repeated in the popular press. Disinformation triumphed.  Hybrid information warfare enthusiasts everywhere were surely delighted!

Open Media does appear to be a non-profit. But we are not sure exactly how to describe this opaque organization. It’s not really a civil society. It acts more like a trade industry group. The Commissioner on Lobbying lists it as an “engagement network” that employs lobbyists  Is that a thing? We do know it is at least partially funded by Google and other US internet interests; It files lobbying reports with the Canadian Government; and has what appears to be a for profit subsidiary (New/Mode) that markets its services to other aligned groups (like SaveYourInternet.eu).  One of the directors of Open Media was also Google’s former public policy chief in Canada 2007-2014.

In summary, what the EU learned about Open Media in last few weeks:

This is just a summary. There are a series of articles published by this blog, Billboard Magazine, The Times of London and The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that fully cover the EU Parliament cyberturfing by Open Media and associates. These are mostly collected in a reference section at the end of this post.   I urge you to read the articles at the end of this blog as these support our assertions below:

  • Open Media was key player in fake grassroots movement #SaveYourInternet that massively spammed the EU parliament with emails, robo calls, tweets, and faxes. Open Media provided the automated web tools and “cloned” websites.
  • It was a fake grassroots movement. Despite the claims that they had millions of supporters, when the leaders of #SaveYourInternet tried to organize rallies turnout was dismal. Like 18 people in Stockholm dismal.
  • Tweets, emails and web traffic exhibited irregular patterns that appeared non organic. Tweets/Emails were identical. Phone calls were scripted. Traffic was sent at odd times of day.  Clear evidence of “command and control” was observed as specific country MEPs were selectively targeted for long periods. Then targeted countries and MEPs abruptly shifted en masse. Open Media brags on own website about ability to do this.  (Independent researchers #DeleteArt13 tweets from July 4-5 can be found here)
  • Analysis of tweets and website traffic, showed % of traffic from member states wildly out of proportion with population.
  • A lot of activity from Poland was in English.
  • Activity was often steady through overnight hours.
  • Analysis of tweets showed most originated outside the EU. Content Creators Coalition (C3) an Artists Rights non profit in US, analyzed tweets carrying #DeleteArt13 hashtag and found 88,000 came from Washington DC. Only 72,000 came from entire EU.  Here.
  • Web tools provided by Open Media (To SaveYourInternet.EU) did not check for valid email addresses, physical addresses, verify identity or check to see if IP addresses were in EU, and phone calls were permitted from North American numbers.  Try it yourself. 
  • Web tools provided by Open Media allowed users to simply reload page and send hundreds of emails and tweets opposing NAFTA. Try it yourself
  • No Captcha’s were ever required, allowing easy automation by potentially malicious third parties.  Try it yourself. 
  • The #SaveYourInterent campaign was directed by Google’s “Secretariat”  N-Square in Brussels.
  • Opinion is still divided in the EU parliament but many now openly question if there ever was any real opposition to copyright directive.

Now it’s happening in Canada.

As Fake Daniel Therrien Fake Commissioner of Privacy I demonstrate how easy it is to spam Foreign Minister Freeland with anti-NAFTA messages. Go fullscreen it’s worth the 60 seconds.

Now it appears that Open Media is trying to torpedo IP protection provisions in the NAFTA treaty.  They are sending out dubious emails that speculate wildly or mischaracterize the facts.  These emails are directed at Canada’s Foreign Minister and they make wild and unsupported claims about NAFTA IP provisions.  Also  the spam email has a curious  little “rider” paragraph at the end that seems to imply that TPP has been a disaster for Canada. Is that true? It’s only been in effect a few months! So a by-product of this campaign is it falsely gives the impression that hundreds of thousands of Canadians are upset with the TPP.  I find it extremely unsettling that the Office of Privacy Commissioner of Canada provided funds to an opaque Google-funded organization that is attempting to undermine the Canadian Prime Minister on trade policies. Shouldn’t this activity be reported as lobbying or something?

Regardless, think of the implications for Canadian democracy:

Anyone can go to this website, impersonate Canadians and send as many emails as they want to Freeland.  In video above a Fake Daniel Therrien  OPC Commissioner of Canada repeatedly spams Freeland.

  • No Captcha
  • No geolocation check of IP address
  • No email verification
  • Allows repeated emails
  • Easy to impersonate anyone
  • Easily used with keystroke automation

No Protections To Guard Against Automation

I automated 25 spam emails and received 25 separate verifications from Open Media that my emails were sent to Freeland. It should be noted the “thank you” email included a solicitation for money. And by “automation” I mean I just had to hit “back” button on my browser and then “send” button on webform. Not exactly brain surgery.  This is a complete fraud.

Note: I always let recipient know these were tests and demos. I did this by changing my name to a short explanation. It is clearly working as “ThisWasDemoOfOpenMediaSpam” got a thank you email. Additional precautions were taken so targets would not mistake these communications for real constituent communications.

Why Do Silicon Valley Interests Object to IP Provisions that would protect Canadian creators. 

In the US we have long grown suspicious of groups like Open Media as their agendas seem to always exactly match the public policy positions of Google and other Silicon Valley interests.  We have come to view these groups as simply extensions of Silicon Valley corporation’s public policy operations.

Google in particular is extremely aggressive in lobbying against copyright protections. No surprise we see them trying to meddle in Canadian politics through a dubious “engagement network.”  Basically any $CAN paid to creators on its YouTube platform is one less dollar that goes to the billionaires Sergey Brin and Larry Page.  In particular YouTube relies upon what is arguably an illegal anti-competitive scam, whereby licensed versions of music videos must compete alongside “User Uploaded Content.”   In many cases (certainly in my own personal experience with my own videos) the revenues generated by the UGC content does not go to the rightful owner of video. Example this is a UGC instance of one of my songs. I have no idea where the ad revenue goes.  I can only assume Google keeps this money. Judging by Google’s enormous global lobbying efforts to prevent any copyright reforms that would force them to correct this kind of abuse, one can reasonably conclude this is an enormous profit center for Google. (Sum all those unlicensed videos streams across millions of commercially made music videos and the sums are likely staggering). In this case the NAFTA IP provisions would likely make it harder for Google pocket this undeserved revenue. Thus It makes sense that Google would fund a Canadian “engagement network” like Open Media that seeks to torpedo the entire NAFTA accord over this one little issue. Clear return on investment there.

(I don’t know how to put this in polite phrasing and still convey the outrageousness.  So apologies in advance.)

That said, It makes no fucking sense for Office of Privacy Commissioner of Canada to fund this activity. It hurts Canadian creators, but more importantly it undermines Canada’s own sovereignty. Government offices funding groups attempting to undermine Canadian sovereignty? Wow.

There are usually only two reasons for involvement by government officials in this sort of subterfuge:

  1. Incompetence
  2. Corruption

Or both. Either require firing of those responsible in the OPC.

It happened before in Canada Why is Canada Letting it Happen Again? 

Read this from 2009.  This all happened once before.

100,000 Voters Who Don’t Exist

Canadian government officials can maybe excused for doing something stupid the first time round.  Not the second time round. Investigation is warranted. Firings and even criminal and civil penalties should be contemplated.

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What Should Canadian Creators Do?

This is a hack of your democracy by US corporate interests aided by your own government. Do something about it.

Write The Minister of Democratic Institutions

The Honourable Karina Gould.

Twitter handle @karinagould

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/karina.gould/

Email (For those of you that do not participate in data mining operations conducted by US social media platforms)

karina<dot>gould<at>parl<dot>gc<dot>ca

Write Chief Spam Compliance Officer  Steve Harroun

Office Twitter Handle  @CRTCeng

Email (For those of you that do not participate in data mining operations conducted by US social media platforms)

steve<dot>harroun<at>crtc<dot>gc<dot>ca

Write The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commission of Canada.

Twitter @CIEC_CCIE  English

Twitter @CCIE_CIEC French

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion

Email (For those of you that do not participate in data mining operations conducted by US social media platforms)

mario<dot>dion@parl<dot>gc<dot>ca

Write Justice Canada.

It is not clear who at Justice Canada would be responsible for investigating this sort of activity. However since it goes beyond spam and has a distinct odor of corruption, I believe that Justice Canada should at least be made aware of this activity.

Here is the generic Twitter account @JusticeCanadaEN

Here is the Twitter account of  Minister Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General @MinJusticeEn

I don’t know if this guy (Alexandre Kaufman) is the guy to write but he has reportedly filed spam complaints in the past with CRTC.

Can’t hurt to try him:

Alexandre Kaufman Senior Counsel Department of Justice Canada

https://www.canadianlawlist.com/listingdetail/contact/alexandre-kaufman-621701/

He doesn’t appear to have social media accounts. Here is his email.

akaufman<at>justice<dot>gc<dot>ca

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Reference Articles:

Observations from this blog as EU cyberturfing campaign was occurring:

Meanwhile in Europe Is Google Attempting to Hack the EU Parliament with Robo Calls, Emails and Fake News?

#SaveYourInternet Dog Whistles to Far Right with Pepe: Desperation or Stupidity?

EU MEPs Hacked: More than Half #DeleteArt13 Tweets Appear to be from Sock Puppets

https://thetrichordist.com/2018/07/04/is-google-running-hybrid-information-warfare-attack-on-eu-parliament/

https://thetrichordist.com/2018/07/06/final-thoughts-information-monopolies-information-warfare-vs-democracy/

Post Mortem and Other Press:

https://thetrichordist.com/2018/07/28/the-google-funded-astroturf-group-that-hacked-the-eu-copyright-vote-in-pictures/

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/google-funds-activist-site-that-pushes-its-views-rg2g5cr6t

http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/debatten/eu-urheberrechtsabstimmung-anatomie-eines-politik-hacks-15743044.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-6031363/Google-funding-campaign-group-spams-policymakers-newspapers.html

Anatomy of a Political Hack – Guest Post Volker Rieck

How Google Funded OpenMedia.org Lets Anyone Easily Hack Canadian Copyright Consultation

https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8472479/european-copyright-protests-draw-small-crowds-after-online-avalanche-column

Dismal Turnout For Anti-Copyright Directive Protests in EU Suggests Little Real Opposition

About Dr. David C Lowery

Platinum selling singer songwriter for the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven; platinum selling producer; founder of pitch-a-tent records; founder Sound of Music Studios; platinum selling music publisher; angel investor; digital skeptic; college lecturer and founder of the University of Georgia Terry College Artists' Rights Symposium.

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