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

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!



  1. PJ

    September 24, 2017 at 9:29 am

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

  2. Greg

    September 24, 2017 at 9:47 am

    The senders are not a registered political party. They are a Not-for-profit.

    Not-for-profits and “community organisations” are NOT exempt.

    Also, if a charity or a REGISTERED political party, the sender must still “Clearly and accurately identify the …. organisation…” This was not done. The messages are still spam.

  3. Yvonne

    September 24, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    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.

  4. Simon emmott

    September 24, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    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.

  5. Dex

    September 24, 2017 at 8:14 pm

  6. Mocha Jones

    September 24, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    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.

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