Campaigning, and not just the political variety, depends increasingly on being able to get your message across to the people you want to hear it. That means figuring out who and where they are. But compiling information about groups of people can also be used to allow campaigns to know who their critics, their enemies, may be. It was with the latter thought in mind that WESS appeared on the Zelo Street radar.
They want ... information
“Digital politics reinvented” promises the website, presenting three main areas of expertise, Fundraising, Advocacy, and Engagement. The main man is software architect and developer Andrew Whitehurst. But of greater interest than the W are those making up the ESS, first of whom is Matthew “Gromit” Elliott of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA). He is listed as a “Co-founder”.
Also lending an initial to that acronym is Jag Singh, an alleged entrepreneur of no fixed principle, who co-founded MessageSpace, and who features in his potted bio claims to have worked on the US Presidential campaigns of Wes Clark, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton (none of whom went on to become President as a result). He is allegedly “advising several foreign Governments”. But will any of them listen?
And bringing up the rear of this less than totally wonderful line-up of “Co-founders” is the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines of Guido Fawkes notoriety. For some reason, the Staines bio omits the string of alcohol related convictions, his bankruptcy, or the frequently dishonest approach of the Fawkes blog. But not to worry, WESS has garnered some reasonably positive publicity.
MrWeb talked about the “Launch for New UK Public Opinion Specialist”. The Spectator cited WESS’ database, telling of “The mighty Metis machine that could save Cameron’s bacon in 2015”, while PR Week noted “Campaigners target political parties with ambitious data plans”, although there is a problem here: the reports do not seem to agree on what WESS is offering.
However, the PR Week report talks of “Data on the supporters of issues based campaigns” being used. Used in support of, or against, those supporters, one might wonder. Especially given a most unwise Twitter excursion from Staines today: “Unfashionable view I know, but screening recruits, so-called ‘blacklisting’ of Marxist union militants, safeguards jobs and firms”.
So what is WESS going to be used for, given that “Other sources being fed into Metis include aggregated census records, social media profile data and online political advertising response data”? With Staines’ and Elliott’s track record of less than totally positive campaigning, what will emerge from the intention to gather ten million peoples’ personal information by the end of next year?
As Private Eye might have put it, I think we should be told.