Opposition text messaging campaign raises data protection issues

The head of the Hungarian data protection authority also received a personalised text message on his company mobile phone from the Left's election campaign, which could trigger an official investigation.

POLITICS MARCH 30. 2022 13:58

Attila Peterfalvi, the president of Hungary’s National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, also agrees that the text messaging campaign launched by the opposition raises data protection issues and could become the subject of an official investigation, Mandiner writes. Mr Peterfalvi told the Hungarian portal that „if you do not instruct your service provider to block access to your phone number, it is possible that you receive such [campaign] messages, however, it raises some concerns if those SMSs are addressed to you personally”. He added that his office mobile phone number is not publicly accessible, so he was rather surprised that he was called by his first name in the message that encouraged him to vote for the „change”. Many readers of the portal, and even members of the government, have received text messages urging them to take to the polls and vote for the Left.

Meanwhile, Magyar Nemzet wrote the Hungarian Left could have built a database of more than one million people with the help of DatAdat, a company group specialised in data fishing, with links to Gordon Bajnai, a left-wing ex-prime minister. Peter Marki-Zay, the Hungarian Left’s joint prime ministerial candidate has admitted on several occasions that in the primaries and since, they have managed to build an expansive bloc of supporters that can be easily mobilised. A series of articles published on the Index portal revealed that Mr Bajnai and his circle had been assisting Mr Marki-Zay in his campaign since last autumn, later even the Left’s PM hopeful admitted to having contracted a group of companies – with an offshore background – registered in Estonia.

In a Facebook post published on 20 March, Mr Marki-Zay emphasized that during the primaries and ever since, they have built a database of roughly one million people, who can be easily mobilised by the Left on the day of the vote. In an interview on Inforadio’s Arena programme, Mr Marki-Zay again spoke about this significant database, of at minimum one million by his estimates.

„We have the data of at least one million voters on a daily basis and we regularly reach them with our messages,”

said the joint prime ministerial candidate. The recent series of articles on Index revealed that it was at the request of Mr Bajnai that Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony, whose popularity had been on the decline, was replaced by Peter Marki-Zay as the contender of Klara Dobrev in the second round of the primaries, which he won with DatAdat’s assistance. Later, in response to a question from the Mediaworks News Center, the left-wing prime ministerial candidate admitted that they were in contract with DatAdat.

The companies dealing with data analysis and campaign consulting were established by Mr Bajnai, his former Chief of Staff Viktor Szigetvari, and former minister of intelligence services, Adam Ficsor. According to the portal, DatAdat may also be backed by business circles involved in the offshore scandal of the Panama files. These circles specialised in hiding the financing background of certain companies and the capital behind them. The phishing companies have been registered in Estonia, probably because the Baltic state is notoriously lax in monitoring and enforcing compliance with the GDPR, the European Union’s general data protection regulation, making it easier to use voter data for any purpose.

In one of the recordings obtained by Index, Mr Ficsor and Patrick Frank, the director of communications at DatAdat, talk about how they profile users on Facebook and other platforms and how they try to politically convert people who they deem potential voters. Personal data often gets into the hands of companies like DatAdat by unsuspecting people filling out innocent-looking questionnaires and quizzes. This information can reveal even the users’ most personal details.

In the aggressive text message campaign launched recently, the left has reached an estimated two million voters – double the number admitted to by Mr Marki-Zay. However, the compilation of the database may constitute a violation of data protection rules, as many people – including government officials – have received messages personally addressed to them, although they had not shared any of their data with the rainbow coalition of leftist parties. For example, an employee of Mediaworks News Centre received a campaign message from the same phone number from which he had earlier been notified about some packages he ordered.

DatAdat can also deploy masses of fake profiles and paid commenters to promote its content and achieve greater reach. Mr Bajnai may have used this when he published a Facebook post after his involvement in the City Hall scandal was revealed. As Index has pointed out, the post published late on the evening of 18 November last year, has become the former Socialist prime minister’s most popular entry. At the moment it has some 11,000 likes and 3.9 thousand shares, both extremely high numbers in Hungarian politics, Magyar Nemzet’s article reads.



elections, Hungary, left alliance, scandal