Everyone wants to get a handle on how Israel’s March 2 election will play out, and it seems one way to do that is to catch voters when they are going about their day-to-day activities, such as taking money out of an ATM.
That’s what Karine Nahon discovered when she put her credit card into a cash machine near her Ramat Gan home.
When she did, Nahon recounts in a Facebook posting, the screen flashed up the question, “Which party will you be voting for in the next election?” Below was a list of 10 parties with a number beside each that she could use to enter her choice on the keypad.
The question appeared right after she entered her password and before she could make a request for cash.
“After I got over my initial shock, I tried to exit the page and move to the one where I could withdraw money,” she writes. “Nothing worked. The question just stayed there. Eventually I just pushed the button for any old party. I was proud that they didn’t succeed in getting any information out of me that I didn’t want to give them, just a like a first grader who fools her teacher. Still, it bothers me.”
Nahon happens to be president of the Israel Internet Association and a member of the Israeli Digital Rights Movement as well as an expert on information and society who teaches at the Herzilya Interdisciplinary Center and at the University of Washington.
Nahon has doubts about all the privacy claims. In her case, at least, she was forced to answer before she could withdraw money. If the survey is anonymous, she questions why it only asks the survey question after the user has provided his or her identify. In any case, if Casponet is conducting its own polls, it has to say so under Israeli election law.
But it seems the survey violates Israel’s privacy laws regarding how personal data is collected and who is entitled to hold and use it. It is particularly problematic if there’s a link between a user, who is identified by a password, getting a financial service and having to reveal his or her political opinions.
The law requires that privacy policies are clarified in advance and that the user can always opt out.
Casponet, the company that operates the ATM, admits it’s behind the ATM poll, but in a Facebook response to Nahon, its CEO Mussi Katz said users don’t need to answer the survey. Quite the contrary, if there’s someone who wants to respond to the survey, they don’t need to take out cash. The responses are kept anonymous, he added.
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In any case, it’s not yielded useful results. “For now, this innovative experiment for Israel and the world hasn’t been a success. The results we’re getting aren’t probable and we’re analyzing why,” he said. “There’s no connection to any political party.”
The idea, Katz told TheMarker, was to offer an alternative to conventional telephone polls. “A poll needs 500 respondents, a number we can deliver in just a few hours. The idea also was to expand usage of the machines and in doing so possibly reduce the service charges. The more machines are used, the lower the fees are,” he said.
The survey is only a pilot for what Katz, like many Israelis, expects to be a fourth election later this year. “This is the first trial in the world to conduct a poll in which passersby get to vote. For the fourth round of elections, we’ll do it at all 3,500 of our cash machines,” Katz promised.
Casponet, a joint venture of the U.S. company Verifone and Israel Discount Bank, is by far the leading player in non-bank ATMs, the kinds placed in stores and kiosks. Although most people associate an ATM with banks, in Israel, at least, there are a lot more non-bank ATMs – 4,170 versus 2,362 at the end of 2018. Casponet accounts for 3,500 of the private ATMs.
Katz said his company had not compiled a database that violates privacy laws. “All I have is 10 lines that show who voted for each party and that’s it,” Katz told TheMarker. “We have no data on passersby who voted and moved on. We don’t even have data on people who took out money. The data we collect for the survey isn’t personal information, it’s for business.”
He said the survey only appears in fewer than 5% of Casponet’s ATMs and most of those who answer were passersby not withdrawing money. In any case, he doesn’t plan to release the results.
Non-bank ATMs are not subject to any supervision by the Bank of Israel, since they are operated by private companies. The Consumer Protection Authority said it was examining the matter in the context of the Privacy Protection Law. It added, there was no violation of consumer protection laws because there was no evidence anyone was deceived.