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A commuter on a peak-hour Melbourne train whose phone had bluetooth switched on has been airdropped campaign material for Fraser Anning's Conservative National Party from an anonymous sender, a practice one marketing expert says will alienate voters.
AirDrop allows iPhone users to share content — often large files — with people close enough to access their bluetooth network. You must be physically close enough to someone's phone to use the technology — usually just a few metres.
Anna was taking the Sandringham line into the city and reading the news on her phone when an AirDrop message popped up.
Anna said she could not figure out who was sharing the material, but found the experience unsettling.
"It felt a bit creepy and intrusive. It didn't say whose iPhone it was, it just said 'iPhone' wants to share this with you," she said.
"It felt a bit sneaky and underhanded.
The hidden campaign
"It just felt like, is someone watching me? And do they know which device of the many in the carriage is mine, or are they just sending this to everyone they can?"
She submitted the screenshot to the ABC's Hidden Campaign — a project tracking political messaging in the election campaign — for investigation.
She said she turned on bluetooth so she could sync with other personal devices like her fitbit, and though she knew she could restrict the settings, she hadn't thought to do so.
The picture appears to be one that was shared to the Conservative Nationals Party's Facebook account, before that account was taken down.
In that iteration, it is attributed to Fraser Anning.
A spokesman for Mr Anning said it was not a practice that was being directed by his head office.
This sort of tactic can 'kill trust'Australian National University political marketing expert Dr Andrew Hughes said this was not good technology for a party to adopt in order to win votes.
"It's a scary precedent, because it obviously means [they're] tracking you pretty effectively, or just through your device, which would scare a lot of people," he said.
"I just don't know it's going to work for that reason. If people feel they've had their privacy intruded [on] by that level of technology.
"To certainly have a message appear on your phone out of the blue … that's really going to make you hate the brand, not like it, and not vote for them that's for sure."
He said the anonymity combined with proximity would upset people.
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"It's someone really close to you and they're not identified, it could be anyone," Dr Hughes said.
"It kills the trust, and you want trust, because that means people will vote for you and like you, and ultimately that's what you're after.
"I would not touch this with a 10-foot barge pole. People would think you're being sneaky, you're being underhanded, they're all the things and attributes you don't want to have attached to your brand."
Dr Hughes said this type of campaigning may spark a conversation post-election about changing the privacy act to include political parties and candidates.
Right now, these groups are exempt from requirements of the Privacy Act in how they handle and store people's personal data, if they are engaged in certain political activities.
They can also access voter details on the electoral role for the purposes of political campaigning.
There is also a push by the Australia Institute for an enquiry into implementing truth in political advertising laws, after a poll in 2016 found 87 per cent of respondents would support this reform.
"We're seeing more and more the digital cutting edge of things creep into this election," Dr Hughes said.
"Technology such as this might mean that we start to put political parties inside the privacy act."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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