Is this legal? How the Yes campaign got your number
MOBILE marketing experts have called into question the official explanation from same-sex marriage campaigners about how they obtained the phone numbers for a mass SMS campaign on the weekend.
On Saturday, Australians were bombarded with unsolicited text messages from a phone user titled YesEquality which read: "The Marriage Equality Survey forms have arrived! Help make history and vote YES for a fairer Australia. VoteYes.org.au."
Recipients who attempted to respond to the address received an error message.
Many shared the messages on social media, complaining about the invasion of privacy and asking how their mobile phone numbers came to be in the Australian Marriage Equality database.
"How did you get my number?" one user asked. "Is this legal? I have never received political txt messages before, I am not happy, this goes against my values and you have not respected my privacy."
AME claims the numbers were randomly generated by a "technology platform" used by political parties during election campaigns for years. AME co-chair Alex Greenwich said on Saturday the campaign was "using every resource available".
"This weekend thousands of Australians volunteered to door knock in their local area because they want everyone to have the same dignity and respect," he said.
"The campaign is using every resource available to make sure fairness and equality are achieved for all Australians. The campaign has a responsibility to encourage every Australian to post their survey and we have done this through door knocking, media, advertising, social media and SMS messaging.
"It's so important to reach as many Australians as possible and remind them this is a vote about fairness and ensuring every Australian is equal under the law."But some in the SMS and mobile marketing industry raised doubts about AME's official explanation. "I've worked in the SMS industry for 10 years and I've never heard of that product," said one industry insider based in Sydney.
"If there is such a product it could be something coming out of China or the US. I'm assuming you could just try any 10-digit number starting with '04', but I don't think that would be particularly cost-effective.
"Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are going to charge you for the attempt to send. If you're randomly generating five million numbers and potentially only getting through to one million, you're still charged for five million attempts."
Another industry figure from Melbourne agreed. "I've never heard of it happening before either," he said. "There would be a lot of wastage, and one of the reasons we don't get [mass] spam in Australia is not just because of the law but because it's not cheap to send out.
"I don't know where they've got their budget from but that's a very significant spend if they've sent out millions of messages. Somebody in my office got one, so it seems to be quite high penetration.
"The point for me is that's not something the industry I'm in is involved in, recommends or promotes in any way, shape or form - because it's spam."
It comes as the communications watchdog confirmed it had received "hundreds" of complaints about the text messages, but said they were likely not in breach of the Spam Act or the Do Not Call Register Act.
According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, as long as unsolicited communications are not commercial or soliciting donations, they are in the clear.
"The ACMA has not investigated this SMS campaign," a spokeswoman said.
"It is important to note that if these calls, emails or SMSs are not commercial - that is they do not have a commercial purpose - they are generally allowed and not required to comply with the obligations under the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 and the Spam Act 2003."
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Australian Information Commission directed inquiries back to the communications watchdog.
"The OAIC understands that the SMS messages being sent by the Australian Marriage Equality campaign are being sent using random computer-generated mobile numbers, not from collected numbers," she said.
"The OAIC has been in contact with ACMA which deals with unsolicited SMS communication issues. ACMA have provided information to the public about this issue."
On Sunday, Nationals MP George Christensen raised concerns about the SMS campaign. "I received numerous complaints yesterday about text messages being sent from those seeking to change the definition of marriage," he told Sky News.
"One of them was sent by the Yes campaign and those who received it don't know how they got their mobile phone number. The other was sent by the Queensland Council of Unions asking people how they were going to vote.
"A union member told me they thought it was not only a waste of union money and effort to be campaigning on something not related to workplace relations but was also concerned about the invasion of privacy and troubled by what the union might do with the information if someone responded to tell them they weren't voting for any change to marriage.
"The Yes campaign and the QCU need to explain how they got these mobile phone numbers when people did not give them out."
But Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek defended the text messages, telling the ABC's Insiders it paled in comparison to techniques used by the no campaign.
"One of the things that is most irritating about this is people who are getting their goat up about the SMS messages coming out urging a yes vote," she said. "I mean, we didn't want this postal survey to happen, we have said all along this is a $122 million waste of money."
"When the Yes campaign actually goes out and campaigns, like it would in a general election, the No campaign says, 'Oh, its really unfair that people are urging a Yes vote."
AME has been contacted for comment.