Political activists exploit Spam Act loophole: Vote YES campaign sends SMS across Australia

separate yourself from the debate, and the issue - this is a sign of things to come

Lots, probably millions of Australians received a specific text message today from “YesEquality” and it’s got plenty asking some very simple questions.

  • How did they get my number?
  • Why can’t I unsubscribe?

Unfortunately, our personal details are being traded between companies and organisations all the time, so the answer to how they got your number you may never know.  However, the bigger issue of why these messages are able to be sent might just surprise and outrage you.

This is not about the Marriage Equality issue, vote however you like, and frankly I doubt a single vote was changed by this text message.  This is about SPAM.

Unsolicited messages.  Emails, Post, and now SMS.

You can setup a pretty good SPAM filter in your email – they are getting smarter, Google does it well.

You can also setup a nice little “no junk mail” sign on your letter box – works pretty well.

But what about that most private of place – your SMS inbox?

When companies send you messages you might have noticed they often say “reply STOP to stop receiving these messages”.  That’s required under the Spam Act of 2003.  Yep, there’s an act of parliament that covers this, and protects us from unsolicited crap.

But here’s why this message today was completely legal, and is a sign of things to come in future elections.  There’s an exemption – Guess who’s exempt?  Yep – spot on: registered political parties – along with Registered charities and educations institutions.

Here’s what the act says: Registered charities, registered political parties and educational institutions are exempt from the Act. If an organisation falls into one of these categories, then any commercial electronic messages it sends are exempt from the Act’s consent and unsubscribe conditions if, and only if, the messages relate to goods or services supplied by the organisation that authorised the message. Note that such messages must still comply with the identify condition of the Act.

That’s right – they don’t need to have your consent, nor do they need to allow you to unsubscribe.

They must though correctly identify themselves, which is why the “Medicare” text on the last Federal Election day was such a farce.

I admire the spirit of those spending tens of thousands on a direct message campaign, however, I’m a bit disgusted that there’s no way for me to remove myself from their database.

So buckle up, and stand by for an SMS onslaught at the next election, because there’s buckley’s chance you’ll get bi-partisan support to change the Spam Act to ensure that Political Parties can’t spam us!


Trev produces two of the most popular technology podcasts in Australia, Your Tech Life and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He hosts a nightly radio show on Talking Lifestyle, 8pm Monday to Friday in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, appears on over 50 radio stations across Australia weekly, and is the Tech Expert on Channel 9’s Today Show and A Current Affair. Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave.

Like this post? Buy Trev a drink!

6 Comments on this post.
  • PJ
    24 September 2017 at 9:29 am
    Leave a Reply

    How does this message “relate to goods or services supplied by the organisation that authorised the message” and qualify for exemption?

  • Greg
    24 September 2017 at 9:47 am
    Leave a Reply
  • Yvonne
    24 September 2017 at 12:53 pm
    Leave a Reply

    If I hadn’t already voted ‘No” this SMS invasion, would have ensured that I did. These people have already taken a mile and we haven’t even given the the inch yet. Damned if I want to see them get anything they want now. Go and harass someone who’s interested in your campaign.

  • Simon emmott
    24 September 2017 at 3:25 pm
    Leave a Reply

    Think I have found a situation where the above spam could be illegal. Many Fire Control Officers rely on mobile phones to receive messages to respond to emergencies. The WA Bushfires Act 1954 states it is an offence to hinder a BFCO in any way. Therefore, clogging up emergency officers communication channels with spam is an illegal hindrance.

  • Dex
    24 September 2017 at 8:14 pm
    Leave a Reply
  • Mocha Jones
    24 September 2017 at 10:57 pm
    Leave a Reply

    It may have exploited a Spam Act loophole, but it broke the political advertising laws around proper identification of the advertiser. It should have had “Authorised by ” and an individual’s name. Simply giving a website URL does not comply with political advertising regulations.

    I posted my vote today. Because I’m a stupid young person I had no idea how to seal the envelope and put it into one of those big red boxes so I looked it up on Youtube.

  • Leave a Reply