Published: Thu, May 18, 2017
Money | By Armando Alvarado

Britain to investigate use of personal data in political campaigns

Britain to investigate use of personal data in political campaigns

Denham said she believed voters accepted that there would be some broad targeting of different groups based on data gleaned by parties about the area they live in and their age category. There is nothing illegal about using data analytics, provided the requirements of the Data Protection Act are met, in particular the requirement for fair and lawful processing.

The likes of machine learning company Cambridge Analytica and behavioural profiling company AggregateIQ have been linked with political campaigns for Donald Trump and Vote Leave, and have caused concern among privacy campaigners and watchdogs.

An investigation has been launched into how personal data is being collected and used for targeting voters in political campaigns on social media, the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has confirmed.

Announcing the probe via the ICO's website, Denham said: "Given the big data revolution, it is understandable that political campaigns are exploring the potential of advanced data analysis tools to help win votes".

UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who will be leading the review, has noted that while the timing of the announcement coincides with the forthcoming UK General Election the two are not related.

The investigation will look into the use of targeted online advertising in the run-up to Britain's European Union referendum a year ago, and potentially in other campaigns, said the ICO, which can issue fines of up to 500,000 pounds and instigate criminal prosecutions.

"I would nonetheless remind all relevant organisations of the need to comply with the law", she said. "It is important that there is greater and genuine transparency about the use of such techniques to ensure that people have control over their own data and the law is upheld". "Digital campaigning techniques help ensure that the public are informed, and will drive up democratic participation across society". Cambridge Analytica has said it has never been retained nor done any work, paid or unpaid, for Leave.EU.

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He said the Information Commissioner was under "political pressure based on stories which are completely false".

"We've been in touch with a company called Aggregate IQ, which is based in Canada".

Ms Denham told the Radio 4 Media Show: "Facebook and other social media platforms are very powerful".

'There's been allegations, there's been a lot of trade and analysis of people's digital trails online that then allows political campaigns to serve up ads that are micro-targeted to individuals'.

Denham said that to get a better picture of such practices would require detailed investigative work and engagement with a range of organisations including political parties, data companies, social media platforms, as well as worldwide cooperation.

Ms Denham also said the investigation will examine how parties use data in the current election, with data protection guidance refreshed last week.

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