Trudeau Liberals paid surveillance company to spy on Canadians: report

The Privy Council Office (PCO) gave Meltwater a $49,437.50 contract for media monitoring and media relations. 'The Trudeau Government is not paying millions of tax dollars to find out how it can save us money, but to learn how [to] build better propaganda,' writes researcher Nya Pfannerstill

Trudeau Liberals paid surveillance company to spy on Canadians: report
The Canadian Press / Ethan Cairns
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The Trudeau Liberals have paid out millions to a private social media surveillance company since Justin Trudeau first became prime minister. Although most details remain redacted, the federal government first signed a contract with Meltwater in 2014 worth tens of thousands of dollars.

They provide online “social listening” services and real-time social media monitoring to help clients “influence the world” around them.

Everyday billions of conversations take place on social media: tweets, posts, comments, blogs, reviews, podcasts, and much more,” reads a blog posted to Meltwater’s website.

“If you were holding an event, wouldn’t you want to know that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was tweeting about it?” it reads.

Last year alone Canadian taxpayers paid out $1,877,390.30 in contracts to the tech firm.

On November 27, 2023, the Privy Council Office (PCO) gave Meltwater a $49,437.50 contract for “communications professional services not elsewhere specified,” with an emphasis on media monitoring and media relations. 

“Whatever business you’re in, it’s almost certain that many of those discussions will be relevant to you,” the blog continues. “People talking about your brand, competitors, the industry you work in, the problems you could help them with, and many other topics that could provide valuable insights for your organization.”

That’s just a small slice of how much this company has been paid to monitor social media, according to Andy Lee, a writer and researcher who first uncovered the steady stream of contracts dating back to July 2022.

“The first contract was signed in 2014, right after Justin Trudeau was elected to lead the Liberal Party of Canada, just before the 2015 Federal Election that saw him become Prime Minister,” she said.

On Sunday, social media influencer Nya Pfannerstill posted to X, formerly Twitter, that the federal government permitted Meltwater access to Statistics Canada databases to identify how the federal agency can improve its public relations, communications, outreach and engagement activities with Canadians.

While the Meltwater web-based tool is new to Statistics Canada, its functionalities and objectives are not new. Monitoring of social media and traditional media environments has been a common practice at Statistics Canada for years. 

“The use of Meltwater will make this practice more efficient and will directly support the Agency's desire to further engage with Canadians and translate data stories via social media, media relations, outreach and engagement activities. It will also be a critical support system for the 2021 Census collection strategy,” reads a StatsCan note posted to its website.

While the agency assured Canadians there is a “very low risk” that Meltwater would access personal information without proper authorization, they cited potential risk of the firm identifying an individual through their IP address.

Lee felt uneasy with Meltwater harvesting Canadians’ online data through the StatsCan database.

“It is not intended for Meltwater users to access IP addresses, pictures or videos,” said the agency. “Personal information accessed through the tool will only be disclosed on a need-to-know basis.”

“Comforting,” replied Lee. 

Moreover, Meltwater recently partnered with Microsoft to handle its data processing and storage needs, so everything will be shared down the line, claimed Pfannerstill.

On February 15, Microsoft entered into a business arrangement with Meltwater to deliver an “integrated communications insights solution” that harnesses Meltwater's listening tools alongside Microsoft’s technology stack, including Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, and Microsoft Teams. 

“This solution will combine Microsoft’s advanced AI services with user-centric design to redefine the customer experience by turning data into dialogue, enabling better collaboration and quick action on business-critical news, market shifts, trends, and competitive intelligence,” reads a Meltwater press release.

“Our goal is to reinvent Communications using AI. We wanted to work with a partner that could help us deliver deeper insights using Microsoft’s AI technology in the place where our teams get their work done with Copilot for Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams,” said Steve Clayton, Vice President of Communications Strategy at Microsoft. 

“Meltwater’s leading technology and intuitive platform made them the best partner to help us build a solution that goes beyond hindsight reporting, delivering real time and AI-powered predictive insights,” he added.

Naturally, if you use the Meltwater Tool, you can fight ‘misinformation and disinformation’ online, suggested Lee.

Meltwater defines ‘misinformation’ as the spreading of false information, regardless of intent to mislead. They characterize ‘disinformation’ as "deliberately misleading or biased information."

“If you want to learn about how Meltwater's Social Listening can fight fake news on social media, fill in the form and we'll get in touch,” reads a 2021 Meltwater blog.

“Sound familiar?” said Lee.

“The Trudeau Government is not paying millions of tax dollars to find out how it can save us money, but to learn how [to] build better propaganda,” writes Pfannerstill.

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