Intrigued by the Sunday morning news that the government of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will pay $50 to any householder who visits its energy-price comparison website, regardless of whether they act on the site’s advice, a Quadrant Online reader immediately fired up her computer and took a look. After filling in her details and learning she could be paying a lot less than AGL currently charges to keep her lights on, she noticed a little doover in the lower right corner of her screen. It was a dialogue box with an entity — cyber or genuinely human she could not tell — going by the name of Jeremy, who promised to be of assistance.
A suspicious sort, our reader asked Jeremy a question about privacy. The exchange, which she copied, is pasted below:
Jeremy: Hello, would you like some assistance with Victorian Energy Compare?
Visitor: Hi, how do I know the Andrews government isn’t using this scheme to collect email addresses and target users for its re-election attempt later this year?
(long, long pause)
Come on, Jerry. Simple question, what about a simple answer?
Jeremy: It will be a voluntary program and will have privacy rules applied in line with government requirements
Visitor: What are those requirements, Jerry? Where can I find them?
Jeremy: For further information you will need to email email@example.com
Visitor: In other words, once Andrews has my email, he can “inform” me of all the wonderful things his government is doing
Jeremy: As stated above, it will be a voluntary program and will have privacy rules applied in line with government requirements. If you would like more information about it, you can email the info.vec email box. Can I help you with anything else regarding the website?
Visitor: Well, Cardinal Pell had “privacy requirements” when under investigation and it didn’t stop VicPol leaking like a geriatric bladder to the press.
At which point, Jeremy ended the conversation. Our reader was not satisfied, however, and began poking around in the fine print of the “privacy” notification available via a discreet link at the foot of the site’s homepage. Down the bottom, there is this (emphasis added):
Email addresses will only be used to respond to specific user queries and will not be kept or used for any purpose other than stated. Email addresses will not be added to a mailing list unless consent is given, nor disclosed to any other party without your knowledge or consent.
When the site goes fully live on July 1, visitors will almost certainly be asked if they wish to receive emailed bulletins and updates.
With a state election set for late this year, how handy must it be for Andrews & Co to have an extended mailing list of potential recipients for epistles about the great strides being made in Victoria under the current government? They won’t be nakedly partisan, extolling only Labor’s virtues, but the bulletins certainly won’t reflect badly on the Sultan of Spring Street.
And all it will cost is a mere $50 of taxpayer money for each and every name added to the email list.
The website, which is not yet fully operational, can be viewed via this link or the one below.