La­bor, Lib­er­als pay­ing to build voter pro­files

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - BIG BROTHER - JOHN ROLFE

NOT ONLY IS THIS HAP­PEN­ING, YOU ARE PAY­ING FOR IT For­mer La­bor front­bencher Are you con­cerned about the amount of data po­lit­i­cal par­ties are gather­ing on you?

LA­BOR is try­ing to link elec­toral roll and so­cial me­dia data to build su­per-rich pro­files on po­ten­tial vot­ers, as new fig­ures show tax­pay­ers are pay­ing $1 mil­lion to­wards po­lit­i­cal par­ties’ ef­forts to build so­phis­ti­cated soft­ware sys­tems

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Sun­day Mail has found th­ese sys­tems can cross­match pri­vate elec­toral roll de­tails, such as ad­dress and age and whether you were born in Aus­tralia – in­for­ma­tion avail­able to par­ties due to a con­tro­ver­sial law ex­emp­tion – with in­sights from Face­book, pur­chased land­line lists, cen­sus data and door-to-door sur­veys.

Added to the mix are mo­bile phone num­bers and email ad­dresses from pe­ti­tions on is­sues such as same-sex mar­riage, Medi­care or the loom­ing clo­sure of a lo­cal govern­ment agency.

“Not only is this hap­pen­ing, you are pay­ing for it,” a for­mer La­bor front­bencher said.

“The goal is to try to match elec­toral roll de­tails with so­cial me­dia data and that’s a very dif­fi­cult thing to do.”

The source said the over­all ef­fort was akin to “spy­ing” and de­signed to iden­tify “per­suad­ables” – those whose vot­ing in­ten­tions can be in­flu­enced.

At the 2016 fed­eral elec­tion, the ALP’s sys­tem iden­ti­fied two mil­lion such peo­ple who were then “mi­cro-tar­geted”.

The cam­paign was run by now US-based dig­i­tal spe­cial­ist Erinn Swan, daugh­ter of for­mer trea­surer and cur­rent La­bor MP Wayne Swan. She de­clined to comment.

Ms Swan’s LinkedIn pro­file says she helped La­bor win the “so­cial-me­dia war” with more than 100 mil­lion im­pres­sions on Face­book.

Anal­y­sis of more than 1300 par­lia­men­tar­i­ans’ claims in the two years to June 2018 re­veals La­bor MPs and sen­a­tors sought $356,000 for soft­ware, typ­i­cally at $2000 to $3000 per year. At this rate, the Op­po­si­tion will claim more than $530,000 this term.

Coali­tion par­lia­men­tar­i­ans sub­mit­ted soft­ware ex­penses of $322,000 – more than $483,000 over the term.

The po­lit­i­cal par­ties’ soft­ware pay­ments are sent di­rectly to “nom­i­nated providers”.

La­bor’s is called Cam­paign Cen­tral, run by the na­tional sec­re­tariat, which would not comment.

The party’s state gen­eral sec­re­taries are cur­rently vis­it­ing lo­cal branches to train mem­bers on Cam­paign Cen­tral for the next elec­tion.

Im­ported from the UK, the sys­tem cross­matches the elec­toral roll, so­cial me­dia data and home phone de­tails bought from Sen­sis to be used for so-called “phonebank­ing”, where swing vot­ers in mar­ginal elec­torates are called and de­liv­ered scripted mes­sages in what are some­times termed “call­ing par­ties”.

Cam­paign Cen­tral did not start out as a tool of “per­sua­sion”, a for­mer top party official said, but that was what it was be­com­ing.

Coali­tion claim pro­ceeds go to a com­pany named Para­keelia, whose directors in­clude party boss and for­mer NSW premier Nick Greiner.

Para­keelia de­scribes its work as “data­base man­age­ment and mar­ket re­search”.

Its 2017 ac­counts show cash re­serves of $1 mil­lion-plus.

The South Aus­tralian and Vic­to­rian branches of the Lib­eral Party have re­cently be­gun us­ing a US firm named i360, which says it uses “mul­ti­ple ad­vanced ma­chine-learn­ing al­go­rithms” to “gen­er­ate the most ac­cu­rate, in­di­vid­u­al­level pre­dic­tions” avail­able.

In the US, i360 re­port­edly buys loy­alty-scheme data, but Lib­eral sources in­sisted that did not hap­pen in Aus­tralia.

At the re­cent SA elec­tion, i360 was cred­ited with help­ing un­seat La­bor af­ter 16 years.

SA state Lib­eral di­rec­tor Sascha Mel­drum said “we have em­braced mod­ern tech­nol­ogy in cam­paign­ing and will con­tinue to look at ways to im­prove how we com­mu­ni­cate with vot­ers”.

Ms Mel­drum is now work­ing on the Vic­to­rian cam­paign.

Party vol­un­teers in­stall an i360 app on their phone.

It speeds up door-to-door sur­vey­ing and, more im­por­tantly, gives feed­back on whether or not to fo­cus on sim­i­lar peo­ple and where those peo­ple are more likely to be.

They are at­tempt­ing to as­sign “hard IDs” – a near-cer­tain pre­dic­tion that you will vote for or against them. The goal is to iden­tify the types of peo­ple whose votes can­not be shifted so that more time and ef­fort can be spent on those who can be per­suaded.

The Lib­eral fed­eral sec­re­tariat said it did not use i360, but would not rule out the sys­tem be­ing de­ployed at the loom­ing fed­eral elec­tion.

Fil­ings with the cor­po­rate reg­u­la­tor show i360 ap­pointed con­sul­tancy Min­terEl­li­son in November last year. Min­terEl­li­son de­clined to comment.

SA fed­eral MP Re­bekha Sharkie of the Cen­tre Al­liance has called for an in­quiry into ma­jor par­ties’ data-min­ing af­ter i360 was used against her in the re­cent Mayo by-elec­tion.

A spokes­woman said Ms Sharkie be­lieved the use of i360 was be­hind the Lib­er­als rais­ing “ran­dom” elec­tion is­sues dur­ing the cam­paign, such as asy­lum seek­ers.

“If you get an an­a­lyst in Syd­ney cross-check­ing the elec­toral roll against so­cial me­dia pro­files, you can end up with a dis­torted view,” the spokes­woman said.

Ms Sharkie won the by­elec­tion, in­creas­ing her mar­gin.

“Peo­ple don’t like be­ing spied on,” the spokes­woman said.

Ex­perts say po­lit­i­cal par­ties should lose their ex­emp­tion from pri­vacy and spam laws.

Aus­tralian Pri­vacy Foun­da­tion chair­man David Vaile said par­ties were “ad­dicted” to col­lect­ing lu­cra­tive data.

Univer­sity of Syd­ney po­lit­i­cal so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor Ari­adne Vromen said that, af­ter the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal in the US, par­ties and ac­tivists “all need to think about whether they are re­spect­ing the dig­i­tal pri­vacy of the peo­ple they are tar­get­ing”.

Face­book and i360 ignored re­quests for comment.

Jessy Tubbs, 25, le­gal ad­min, Ormeau Hills Not par­tic­u­larly. Per­son­ally, I don’t see so many ads tar­geted by po­lit­i­cal par­ties on my so­cial me­dia so I don’t have an is­sue. Pic­tured with son Tommy, 6 mths

Luke Giri­bon, 50, lawyer, For­ti­tude Val­ley Ab­so­lutely, I have no­ticed it, but it’s a fact of life so I’m not too con­cerned. It can’t be stopped. Pic­tured with daugh­ter Alexa, 6 Laura Robert­son, 27, travel, Ca­rina I don’t have a prob­lem with it be­cause if you ‘‘like’’ some­thing on­line or sign up for some­thing, you are open­ing your­self up to ex­tra com­mu­ni­ca­tion from that com­pany or po­lit­i­cal party. Nick Robert­son, 26, ed­u­ca­tion, Ca­rina I see it hap­pen­ing on my so­cial me­dia, but you should ex­pect your data to be avail­able if you sign up for some­thing and give your con­sent.

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