Home Blogs Diary 2010 04

Dear Cancer Sufferer

12th April 2010

It is generally regarded a good thing that junk mail is becoming more 'targeted'. Junk mailers are investing heavily in obtaining as much personal information about you as possible so that you only receive unsolicited offers that are 'relevant' to you. Haven't you noticed that you only get offers for car insurance just when you are thinking about getting a new insurance policy? Or that you get offers from BT only when you're unhappy with your current telephone / broadband company? Or that you only get a leaflet about the Conservative Party's cancer treatment policies if you happen to have cancer?

Labour's cancer leaflet.
Labour's leaflet for cancer sufferers.

Even junk mailers would agree that linking mailing databases to people's health records goes a bit far, yet it seems that this is exactly what the Labour Party has done by sending a leaflet about the Conservatives' (allegedly outrageous) policies on cancer treatment to people who have had some form of cancer treatment. Labour denies that its mail-shot (250,000 leaflets) was aimed specifically at cancer sufferers and that it 'only' used socio-demographic data that is commercially and publicly available. The party did not comment on questions asked by the Times [Hyperlink removed as The Times has put its content behind a paywall – JB] about the fact that the leaflet was distributed by Ravensworth, part of Tangent Communications, which has in the past taken care of mailings of the Department of Health and Cancer Research UK. How likely is that Ravensworth, which offers highly targeted marketing, did not use the names and addresses it obtained previously?

What doesn't help Labour's case is that the woman shown on the leaflet, Diane Dwelly, told the Times that she has probably been used by Labour. As far as she was aware her picture was taken for use in a magazine for the NHS – not as part of Labour's election campaign. Interestingly, at the September 2009 Labour Conference, Gordon Brown had spoken of how wonderful the NHS is, using Mrs Dwelly's breast cancer story as an example. Mrs Dwelly told the Daily Mirror at the time that she is a natural Labour supporter and that she had written to Gordon Brown to thank him for the Government funded service offered by the NHS. In response, Mr Brown called Mr Dwelly to say that he was very moved by her story. Using the the story as PR for the Labour Party was apparently not discussed.

And, as the Times article shows, the mail-shot was very targeted. To quote just one example:

In the marginal east London constituency of Poplar and Limehouse, the card was sent to a 44-year-old television producer who had a potentially cancerous lump that turned out to be a cyst. She appeared to be the only person who received the mailshot among 50 neighbours.

Let's hope some of the recipients of the mail-shot will complain to the Information Commissioner's Office; it would be interesting to find out the exact percentage recipients that have had cancer treatment.

Last updated: 
11th February 2011

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