Making The Canadian Census Voluntary Is Ideology Trumping Business, and Privacy

| Contact Center/CRM Views and Analysis

Making The Canadian Census Voluntary Is Ideology Trumping Business, and Privacy

I am one of those individuals who enjoy his privacy. Maybe that's because I as a journalist and opiniongiver am the recipient of countless pitches over multiple channels. In my off-hours I don't like getting calls, marketing mail of any sort or being tracked online, nor do I fill out forms or surveys; LinkedIn is the extent of my open social networking.  

If I have need for companies' goods and services I will determine that and check firms out first--including on social media sites--and contact them i.e. "don't call me/I'll call you." I hear about new items and deals via the Web first, TV second and the local free paper third.

My observation and reports say that more consumers are like me, or the other way around. Thanks to the Web and social media we, and I, have now taken charge of our own interactions and are setting the terms.

This trend of control and privacy has been demonstrated by the rise of do not call, fax, spam and now do not track and personal information opt-out and opt-in i.e. ask permission legislation that I and many others use and support. It has been reflected by the disappearance of door-to-door sales, affirmed by no trespassing rules.

Yet I (and others) have no qualms in having my information obtained by census takers even it means having marketers having seeking if not getting access to me. Which means I don't think highly of the decision by the Canadian government, led by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to make the country's long-form census voluntary (yes, I live in Canada).

Mr. Harper's moves are a triumph of a narrow extremist anti-government libertarian ideology over logic, the public good and ironically (given the so-called free enterprise bent of his party) business sense and needs.

The personal data others from government researchers to advocacy organizations and yes marketers have are about individuals, not on individuals. Filling out census forms provide vital data education, ethnic origin, income, housing and transportation on a long form. A marketer or anyone else with this data will know how many people like me live where I do and how we get around but they will not know who I am. It is not like keying the same or similar information on a warranty card. It is no-brainer what happens to that data i.e. checked your inbox lately?

As my recent TMCnet article reveals, this move will unnecessarily hinder businesses by adding costs and complexity to their marketing at a time when the economy is struggling. Forcing them by denying this resources to blast everyone in a wide range of media to try and make the same profits unfairly takes away resources that could be spent in improving products, service and customer service.

Moreover by forcing companies to increase their mailings only end up costing society i.e. each one of us more. How? By wasting energy and creating more environmental harm at public as well as private expense by logging, transporting, processing, delivering and yes recycling paper goods that are unready and unwanted.

Equally if not more importantly such census information enables a civil society whose privileges we all enjoy and which offers an infrastructure on which we can enjoy our freedoms.

How can vital services: communications, education, emergency services, healthcare, environmental (air quality, sewer/water), healthcare, social services and transportation and trade that we rely on if those that we have entrusted to make those decisions do not have the data to make sound tax-dollar-respecting choices?

Comments have been made that making the census mandatory (with the threat of fines and a jail time--the last one to be removed in a Liberal party bill ) skews the data. Nice assertion but if that were the case wouldn't businesses that rely on targeted marketing--to sell goods and services to those who are likely to buy them (even if they say no, like me), and other governments that depend on accurate census data for decision--be jumping on the Canadian government's bandwagon worldwide?

Living in a society has responsibilities as well as rights. Providing governments with the information they as the enablers of a free society needs--including permitting commerce that pays the bills in our market economy, and advocacy and political organizations to reach out to the public as part of the democratic process--is one of them. 

I may not want to receive marketing pitches targeted to me from businesses and others but I strongly support the right of marketers to make them, just as long as I can say no up front.

If there is a need--and I'm convinced there is--for tougher legislation it should be in the form of "Do not bother" i.e. opt-in legislation covering all media, channels and data: including charities, newspapers and yes political parties and existing business relationships that are typically exempt from do not call/e-mail lists. Give companies one free call, e-mail, or "snail mail" to introduce themselves, ask permission and if they hear "yeah" continue to direct market or "nay" end the contact there. If customers contact them make that opt-in question available passively i.e. on their websites.

Opt-in is arguably the ultimate direct marketing business tool in that the individuals who want to be reached are most likely to buy, which increases ROI. These are the "raving fans" who will gladly do the marketing gratis via social media.  

Yet while the Canadian government has introduced and re-introduced electronic communications privacy legislation it is the census matter that has preoccupied its attention and which has done the impossible: uniting individuals and organizations that would never share the same street corner--academics, businesses and social concerns groups in a common cause to fight it. One that the Opposition Liberals, coming off a successful cross-country tour by its leader, Michael Ignatieff, are keen to exploit when Parliament resumes sitting next month.

The bottom line is this: people like me have the right to opt-in or out when it comes to being pitched whether by printed or electronic mail, fax or by phone, on how firms use our data and how we use the Internet. I and others don't have a choice of opting-in, or out, of society.




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