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Candidates reaching out to voters via ‘robocall’

  • Published at 02:08 am December 28th, 2018

Some express worries over their privacy being compromised  

For the first time in Bangladesh, election candidates are reaching out to voters via ‘robocall’ seeking votes and blessings for them in the 11th general election billed for December 30.

A robocall is a phone call that uses a computerized autodialer to deliver a pre-recorded message. Robocalls are often associated with political and telemarketing phone campaigns, but can also be used for public-service or emergency announcements.

While many people have welcomed the initiative, there are some others who expressed worries that their privacy and data security might be compromised by such practices.

People who are living or working in Dhaka 10 and Dhaka 17 areas  said  they  received robocalls from both Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Dhaka Tribune has learned that BNP candidate of Munshiganj-3, Abdul Hai, was also carrying out his election campaign using robocalls while many other candidates across the country were using robotext seeking voter support.

Sumaiya, a Dhanmondi resident who requested not to publish her last name, said she was surprised to get a recorded voice message from Dhaka 10 AL candidate Fazle Noor Taposh.

“It is certainly a new approach to election campaigning,” she told the Dhaka Tribune. “But I am concerned about how they managed collecting my personal contact information. I never registered with, nor agreed to share my contact information with any political campaign. This means someone shared my contact information without my consent. This is a gross violation of privacy, if not illegal.”

Taposh said they had collected mobile numbers and email addresses of residents in his constituency for the last five years to get closer to voters.

“We have voters’ digital database which is the biggest among many other constituencies. With an attitude of serving the people, I have entered into politics and collected email addresses and mobile numbers of voters for the last five years,” Taposh said.  

Al Emrul Garjon, a photojournalist who lives on Hatirpool Crescent Road in  Dhaka 10 constituency also received a robocall. Garjon said, an Awami League campaign team visited his residence in his absence to seek votes and distributed leaflets.

“They also took my mobile number from my wife,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. He was surprised too upon receiving a robocall, and said:, “I haven’t experienced such a campaign before.”  

Natore voter Enayet Karim— who lives in Gulshan— also got such a call seeking his vote for sheaf of paddy in Dhaka 17 constituency.

“I am not a voter in Dhaka but I live here for professional purposes. But I got a recorded voice message of Jatiya Oikya Front contender, Andaleeve Rahman Partho, two days ago,” Enayet said.  

Meanwhile, Dhaka Tribune found that a good number of people, neither voters nor residents of these areas, also got such voice messages. They also wondered about how political parties managed to get their personal contact numbers and expressed worries about their privacy and security.

Seeking anonymity, a Banani resident said he felt both angry and frustrated after  such phone calls from political parties and election campaigns.

“When somebody gets your mobile number, they can easily trace you if they want, and I do not like such surveillance. I do not know who provided my mobile number to them,” he said.

Oikya Front candidate Andaleeve Rahman Partho told the Dhaka Tribune: “We are carrying out the robocall campaign with the help of telecommunications companies by submitting National Identification Cards and nomination papers.”

However, he did not disclose the name of the company that was serving  him.         

Telecom industry insiders said they were commercially providing digital services—as an innovative election campaign method—to candidates from different operators while there was a way of leaking the personal information of subscribers.

Seeking anonymity, a high official of a leading telecom operator in the country said, “Candidates are using innovative media to carry out their campaigns and robocall is just a part of these campaigns.”

“Operators have digital service wings that provide such services to subscribers who are using software in a particular area within their networks. There is no question of sharing information of individuals,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

“Robocall is being practiced all over the world including our neighboring country India,” he added. 

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