POLLIES KNOW ALL ABOUT YOU
Labor, Liberals paying to build voter profiles
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.