Likud allegedly using Truecaller app database to target potential voters

Netanyahu’s party steps up digital campaigning, sending text messages addressed by name or nickname, as defined by users in popular caller ID app; expert says practice illegal

Illustrative: A woman talks on her mobile phone at a bus stop, in Tel Aviv, on August 24, 2012. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90/File)
Illustrative: A woman talks on her mobile phone at a bus stop, in Tel Aviv, on August 24, 2012. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90/File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has stepped up its digital campaigning efforts, apparently using phone number and name databases from various sources, including the Truecaller app, according to an analysis of personalized text messages sent by the ruling party.

Likud has been using increasingly sophisticated technological means in its election campaigns over the past two years, storing personal data shared by users on an app called Elector and asking supporters for personal data via personalized chatbots on social media.

Some Israelis have in recent days received text messages signed by Likud asking them who they think is most suited to be the next prime minister.

But the apparently standard SMS messages featured one new detail: They were personally addressed by name, or in some cases, by nickname, Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, reported.

In one case, a woman received such a text message from Likud that used a nickname only used by her close friend, sparking their suspicion. Neither are connected to the party.

Illustrative: The Truecaller app. (Charitarth Unagar/Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0)

In another case, a man named Naaman received a personalized text message that used his name, but wrote it in English while the rest of the message was in Hebrew.

Those people never gave their details to Likud via its chatbots on Facebook or Telegram.

Rather, the details appear to have originated in a database kept by Truecaller, a popular app for identifying callers who aren’t in the receiver’s contact list. The app requires users to share their contact list with their database, which is then used to identify callers.

Anyone can control how their name appears on Truecaller.

The Haaretz daily reported Wednesday that one user who set his name on the app as “God” had indeed received an SMS message from Likud addressing him as such.

Jonathan Klinger, a lawyer specializing in internet and privacy laws, told Haaretz that it is illegal for political parties to gather names and private information, even from open sources, without the consent of the people whose details are kept in the database.

By law, firms and bodies collecting personal information are required to clarify the purposes for which they will use it. “If I gave info for a certain purpose, it is forbidden to use it for a different purpose,” Klinger said.

Likud commented to Haaretz that “the allegation is false,” without elaborating.

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