How did I get a political text intended for my mom?
May 20, 2020 4:25 AM   Subscribe

I received an unsolicited political text from the state representative in my mom's district. It addressed my mom by name. I live in a different state, a thousand miles away, and my phone number (the only cell number I've ever had) reflects that. How did this happen? Just bad records?

Although I used to live with my mother, in that same district, it's been 20 years since I left. Also, in case it's relevant: Mom has a non-smart flip phone that probably has my name saved as a contact. I have an Android phone, but her name doesn't appear in my contacts anywhere, because it says "Mom" instead.
posted by unknowncommand to Technology (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Anecdata: I've gotten the same thing. I'm guessing it's just bad data. I am still on a family plan with them though, so maybe that's the vector?
posted by pyro979 at 4:32 AM on May 20


I had something similar happen, a political text intended for my dad; I associated it with the fact that about once every three months I get junk mail addressed to dad about medicare enrollment. Likely bad records, and there's such a low cost for sending a text that there's no reason not to just blast every phone number remotely associated with a name in a telemarketing list. Or, the people selling telemarketer lists are padding things to make lists look bigger by mixing-and-matching associated info or filling in blanks with "close enough" data.

(I also get junk mail for my brother, who passed away six years ago and had lived thousands of miles away from me his entire adult life, and when the IRS was looking for another close relative they sent stuff in the relative's name to my address as well)
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:37 AM on May 20


You said you’ve only had one cell number, and you lived in your moms district 20 years ago, but did you have the cell number when you lived in the district? I have a couple hypotheses, but they rely on that linkage.

Alternatively, is there any chance your mom may have given out your number because she didn’t want to receive these texts?
posted by kevinbelt at 5:02 AM on May 20


1. Your mom was filling out a form on auto-pilot and filled in our phone number instead of hers.
2. The campaign bought a list of names/numbers from a data collection agency, and the data collection agency gave them bogus data. Companies that put together names/addresses/etc from public and private sources make mistakes all the time.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 5:14 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


You said you’ve only had one cell number, and you lived in your moms district 20 years ago, but did you have the cell number when you lived in the district? I have a couple hypotheses, but they rely on that linkage.

Nope, I got the number about 15 years ago, when I moved to my current state.

Alternatively, is there any chance your mom may have given out your number because she didn’t want to receive these texts?

She doesn't have my number memorized, and I also don't think that would occur to her (also, she's super-nice and wouldn't want me to get extraneous texts).
posted by unknowncommand at 5:39 AM on May 20


40 years ago my brother invented a fictitious sibling to get a free birthday ice cream cone from Baskin Robins. My mother is still getting age appropriate mail for him — most recently from the AARP. Which is to say that when the DB connects you, you stay connected.

Now you have a cell phone in your name — but who uses that phone? Is it just yours or is it the house phone for your family? Or if it is just your phone, could you be relied upon to forward a text meant for your mother?

Best to text you just in case.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:41 AM on May 20 [9 favorites]


It's just mine. No family plan, no family, no cats.

Or if it is just your phone, could you be relied upon to forward a text meant for your mother?

That is an intriguing and sneaky possibility. It also just occurred to me that it could be from online shopping for gifts, and they've grabbed both the payment info and the delivery info and figure "Why not?"
posted by unknowncommand at 5:50 AM on May 20


Every election cycle we receive ballot information for my oldest who has lived over 1000 miles away and is registered to vote there. I send them all back as Return To Sender, no longer at this address. Who knows when someone will actually update the database. It’s so annoying when people use ai in specious ways. For a while, like 15 years after divorce, I knew when my ex mother in law was in arrears on payments because I’d get mail and collections called my non cell number. My spouse and I were like you, not wanting the intrusion.
posted by childofTethys at 6:09 AM on May 20


unknowncommand: That is an intriguing and sneaky possibility. It also just occurred to me that it could be from online shopping for gifts, and they've grabbed both the payment info and the delivery info and figure "Why not?"

Yeah, this is definitely a reasonable guess. My admittedly shaky understanding--I'll cede here to anyone with a deeper knowledge of search algorithms--is that the companies that build contact databases (which political campaigns then buy; the less the data is vetted, the cheaper this is for the campaign) are pulling data from tons of sources and trying to make a best guess at whether the phone number from Source A matches the person's name from Source B. I'm thinking something like a database that says Bob's number is 555-1234, and then another database that says there's a registered voter whose number is 555-1233, and the matching algorithm isn't exact so the voter gets a text intended for Bob.

I've been getting tons of these texts, all from VA campaigns (I have a VA phone number but live in DC) and addressed to four different recipient names. Three are completely unrelated to my own, and the fourth one is a masculine version of my name which I did actually go by for a little while. I don't remember ever putting that name down in a form, though, so I think what actually happened is that there really is a person with that name who lives in Virginia and the fuzzy search algorithm looked at almost-my-name and actually-my-name and decided the match was close enough.
posted by capricorn at 6:38 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Could be it's crossing and name with phone information from an emergency contact field.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:38 AM on May 20


I just wanted to say, I'm dealing with almost the exact same thing right now. I'm getting texts meant for my sibling by (slightly unusual) name, specific to their current career path and area. My phone number is still from that area, and it's the only one I've had. Hope we can figure it out, as it gives you a creepy feeling, doesn't it?
posted by spelunkingplato at 7:32 AM on May 20


I asked a variant of this question a couple years ago. I think the bottom line is "databases are weird." I have moved yet again since asking that question (keeping the same phone number) and don't get political texts any more, but I now get mail addressed to random people even though this is a new house, I'm the first owner, etc etc.
posted by basalganglia at 10:37 AM on May 20


Interesting - I got a couple of political texts intended for and addressed to my husband, though in my case it made more sense (in an annoying way) because we share an address. I feel that campaigns should look into stopping this, since if both numbers are you it's annoying to hear twice, and if one of them isn't, it's annoying to the other person. (I will say that when I texted the campaign back slightly snippily that I would be more likely to support the candidate if they didn't send me texts addressing me by my husband's name, I got an immediate apology and they apparently took me off their list.)
posted by LadyOscar at 2:23 PM on May 20


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