Tag Archives: consent

Don’t be so soft

What’s behind the increasing practice of electronic receipts?

I’m good at a few things in life, OK at a few more, and pretty terrible at a lot. Into the last category falls car maintenance. Nonetheless, as a safety-conscious person I understand its importance. And so it was that I found myself in a local branch of a major retailer of car parts the other day buying a replacement headlamp bulb, and asking for it to be fitted (by the very helpful Louise – sorry Louise, I won’t be submitting the online customer feedback, for reasons which will probably become clear in this post). I paid for the service, and was then asked

Can I just have your email address to send the receipt?

Er, no.

I’d heard about this practice, but, oddly, this was the first time I’d encountered it. It was immediately obvious to me what was going on, or at least what I assumed was/is going on, but I thought it might be helpful to draw attention to it.

The law (regulation 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (as amended)) outlaws the sending of unsolicited email marketing to individuals, unless the recipient has previously consented to receive the marketing. As much as this law is regularly flouted, it is both clear and strict. It is, however, subject to an important caveat – email marketing can be sent if the sender has obtained the recipient’s email address “in the course of the sale or negotiations for the sale of a product or service to that recipient”.

This is known as the “soft opt-in” and it seems clear to me that the practice of sending e-receipts is tied up with the gathering of email addresses for the purposes of sending marketing using the soft opt-in provisions. As much as we might be told how helpful it is for our own records management to have electronic copies of receipts, there is something in it for retailers, and that something is the perceived right to send electronic marketing.

I should add, though, that soft opt-in is subject to further qualifications – the marketing must be in respect of “similar products and services only”, and, crucially, at the point when the contact details are collected, the intended recipient must be given the chance to say “no” to the marketing. (See the guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office for further details).

I wasn’t given the chance to say “no”, but I chose not to give my details. If I had given those details, and if I had then received email marketing, it would have been sent unlawfully. I would have known that, but a lot of people wouldn’t, and, importantly, it’s quite difficult to prove (or remember) whether one was given “a simple means of refusing” marketing at the time the sale was made. So it’s a relatively low-risk tactic for marketers.

So my advice is to say no to e-receipts, demand a paper one, and if you do want to retain a record, why not just photograph the receipt when you get home?

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

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ICO finds Lib Dems in breach of ePrivacy law

A few months ago, when I entered my email address on the Liberal Democrats’ website to say that I agreed with the statement 

Girls should never be cut. We must end FGM

I hoped I wouldn’t subsequently receive spam emails promoting the party. However I had no way of knowing because there was no obvious statement explaining what would happen. But, furthermore, I had clearly not given specific consent to receive such emails.

Nonetheless, I did get them, and continue to do so – emails purportedly from Nick Clegg, from Paddy Ashdown and from others, promoting their party and sometimes soliciting donations.

I happen to think the compiling of a marketing database by use of serious and emotive subjects such as female genital mutilation is extraordinarily tasteless. It’s also manifestly unlawful in terms of Lib Dems’ obligations under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR), which require specific consent to have been given before marketing emails can be sent to individuals.

On the lawfulness point I am pleased to say the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) agrees with me. Having considered my complaint they have said:

I have reviewed your correspondence and the organisations website, and it appears that their current practices would fail to comply with the requirements of the PECR. This is because consent is not knowingly given, clear and specific….As such, we have written to the organisation to remind them of their obligations under the PECR and ensure that valid consent is obtained from individuals.

Great. I’m glad they agree – casual disregard of PECR seems to be rife throughout politics. As I’ve written recently, the Labour Party, UKIP and Plaid Cymru have also spammed my dedicated email account. But I also asked the ICO to consider taking enforcement action (as is my right under regulation 32 of PECR). Disappointingly, they have declined to do so, saying:

enforcement action is not taken routinely and it is our decision whether to take it. We cannot take enforcement action in every case that is reported to us

It’s also disappointing that they don’t say why this is their decision. I know they cannot take enforcement action in every case reported to them, which is why I requested it in this specific case.

However, I will be interested to see whether the outcome of this case changes the Lib Dems’ approach. Maybe it will, but, as I say, they are by no means the only offenders, and enforcement action by the ICO might just have helped to address this wider problem.

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

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Filed under consent, enforcement, Information Commissioner, marketing, PECR, spam, Uncategorized

The Lib Dems’ digital rights bill – an empty promise?

On the 11th of April the Liberal Democrats announced that they would introduce a “Digital Rights Bill” if they were to form part of a coalition government in the next parliament. Among the measures the bill would contain would be, they said

Beefed up powers for the Information Commissioner to fine and enforce disciplinary action on government bodies if they breach data protection lawsLegal rights to compensation for consumers when companies make people sign up online to deliberately misleading and illegible terms & conditions

I found this interesting because the Lib Dems have recently shown themselves particularly unconcerned with digital rights contained in ePrivacy laws. Specifically, they have shown a lack of compliance with the requirement at regulation 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR). This regulation forbids the sending of direct marketing by email unless the recipient has notified the sender that she consents to the email being sent. The European directive to which PECR give effect specifies that “consent” should be taken to have been given only by use of

any appropriate method enabling a freely given specific and informed indication of the user’s wishes, including by ticking a box when visiting an Internet website

And the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which regulates PECR, explains in guidance [pdf] that

the person must understand what they are consenting to. Organisations must make sure they clearly and prominently explain exactly what the person is agreeing to, if this is not obvious. Including information in a dense privacy policy or hidden in ‘small print’ which is hard to find, difficult to understand, or rarely read will not be enough to establish informed consent…consent must be a positive expression of choice. It does not necessarily have to be a proactive declaration of consent – for example, consent might sometimes be given by submitting an online form, if there was a clear and prominent statement that this would be taken as agreement and there was the option to opt out. But organisations cannot assume consent from a failure to opt out

But in July last year I began conducting an experiment. I put my name (actually, typed my email address) to a statement on the Lib Dem website saying

Girls should never be cut. We must end FGM

I gave no consent to the sending of direct email marketing from the Lib Dems, and, indeed, the Lib Dems didn’t even say they would send direct email marketing as a result of my submitting the email address (and, to be clear, the ICO takes the, correct, view [pdf] that promotion of a political party meets the PECR, and Data Protection Act, definition of “marketing”). Yet since October last year they have sent me 23 unsolicited emails constituting direct marketing. I complained directly to the Lib Dems, who told me

we have followed the policies we have set out ion [sic] our privacy policy which follow the guidance we have been given by the ICO

which hardly explains how they feel they have complied with their legal obligations, and I will be raising this as a complaint with the ICO. I could take the route of making a claim under regulation 30 of PECR, but this requires that I must have suffered “damage”. By way of comparison, around the same time I also submitted my email address, in circumstances in which I was not consenting to future receipt of email marketing, to other major parties. To their credit, none of the Conservatives, the SNP and the Greens have sent any unsolicited marketing. However, Labour have sent 8 emails, Plaid Cymru 10 and UKIP, the worst offenders, 37 (there is little that is more nauseating, by the way, than receiving an unsolicited email from Nigel Farage addressing one as “Friend”). I rather suspect that consciously or not, some political parties have decided that the risk of legal or enforcement action (and possibly the apparent ambiguity – although really there is none – about the meaning of “consent”) is so low that it is worth adopting a marketing strategy like this. Maybe that’s a sensible act of political pragmatism. But it stinks, and the Lib Dems’ cavalier approach to ePrivacy compliance makes me completely doubt the validity and sincerity of Nick Clegg’s commitment to

enshrine into law our rights as citizens of this country to privacy, to stop information about us being abused online

And, as Pat Walshe noticed the other day, even the Lib Dems’ own website advert inviting support for their proposed Digital Rights Bill has a pre-ticked box (in non-compliance with ICO guidance) for email updates. One final point, I note that clicking on the link in the first paragraph of this post, to the Lib Dems’ announcement of the proposed Bill, opens up, or attempts to open up, a pdf file of a consultation paper. This might just be a coding error, but it’s an odd, and dodgy, piece of script.

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

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Filed under consent, Data Protection, Information Commissioner, marketing, PECR, spam

A cookie for your health problems

Imagine this. You enter a shop (let’s call it Shop A) to browse, and you look at an item of interest (let’s call it Item Q). While you do so, an unbeknown to you, a shop assistant places a sticker on your back, revealing that you looked at this item, and when and where. You leave and a few days later enter another shop, where a shop assistant says “I understand a few days ago you were interested in Item Q, here are some similar items you might be interested in”.

You might initially think “how helpful”, but afterwards you might start to wonder how the second shop knew about your interest, and to think that it’s a bit off that they seemed to have been able to track your movements and interests.

But try this as well. You go to your doctor, because you’re concerned about a medical condition – let’s say you fear you may have a sexually transmitted disease. As you leave the doctor secretly puts a sticker on your back saying when and where you visited and what you were concerned about. You later visit a pharmacy to buy your lunch. While you queue to pay an assistant approaches you and says openly “I understand you’ve been making enquiries recently about STDs – here are some ointments we sell”.

The perceptive reader may by now have realised I am clunkily trying to illustrate by analogy how cookies, and particularly tracking cookies work. We have all come to curse the cookie warning banners we encounter on web sites based in Europe, but the law mandating them (or at least mandating the gaining of some sort of consent to receive cookies) was introduced for a reason. As the Article 29 Working Party of European Data Protection Authorities noted in 2011

Many public surveys showed, and continue to show, that the average internet user is not aware that his/her behaviour is being tracked with the help of cookies or other unique identifiers, by whom or for what purpose. This lack of awareness contrasts sharply with the increasing dependence of many European citizens on access to internet for ordinary everyday activities

The amendments to the 2002 EC Directive, implemented in domestic law by amendment regulations to the The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 aimed to ensure that there was “an adequate level of privacy protection and security of personal data transmitted or processed in connection with the use of electronic communications networks” (recital 63). And Article 5 of the Directive specified that

Member States shall ensure that the storing of information, or the gaining of access to information already stored, in the terminal equipment of a subscriber or user is only allowed on condition that the subscriber or user concerned has given his or her consent, having been provided with clear and comprehensive information, in accordance with Directive 95/46/EC [the 1995 Data Protection Directive], inter alia, about the purposes of the processing

Of course, the requirement that users of electronic communications networks should give consent to the storing of or gaining access to information stored in their terminal equipment (i.e. that they should consent to the serving of cookies) has not been an easy one to implement, and even the Information Commissioner’s Office’s in 2013 rowed back on attempts to gather explicit consent, claiming that there was now no need because people were more aware of the existence of cookies. But I made what to me was an interesting observation recently when I was asked to advise on a cookie notice for a private company: it appeared to me, as I compared competitors’ sites, that those which had a prominent cookie banner warning actually looked more professional than those that didn’t. So despite my client’s wariness about having a banner, it seemed to me that, ironically, it would actually be of some professional benefit.

I digress.

Just what cookies are and can achieve is brought sharply home in a piece on the Fast Company website, drawing on the findings of a doctoral research student at the University of Pennsylvania. The paper, and the article, describe the use of web analytics, often in the form of information gathered from tracking cookies, for marketing in the health arena in the US. Tim Libert, the paper’s author discovered that

over 90% of the 80,000 health-related pages he looked at on the Internet exposed user information to third parties. These pages included health information from commercial, nonprofit, educational, and government websites…Although personal data is anonymized from these visits, they still lead to targeted advertisements showing up on user’s computers for health issues, as well as giving advertisers leads (which can be deciphered without too much trouble) that a user has certain health issues and what issues those are

The US lacks, of course, federal laws like PECR and the DPA which seek – if imperfectly – to regulate the use of tracking and other cookies. But given that enforcement of the cookie provisions of PECR is largely non-existent, are there similar risks to the privacy of web users’ health information in the UK?

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

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Filed under consent, cookies, Data Protection, PECR

Labour’s “HowManyOfMe” – legitimate use of the electoral register?

Is Labour’s shiny new web widget “HowManyOfMe” compliant with the party’s obligations under electoral and ePrivacy law?

Regulations 102 and 106 of the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 (as amended)mean that registered political parties can apply for a copy of the full electoral register, but they can only supply, disclose or make use of the information therein for “electoral purposes”. As far as I can see “electoral purposes” is nowhere defined, and, accordingly, I suspect it permits relatively broad interpretation, but, nevertheless, it clearly limits the use to which a political party can make use of electoral registration information.

With this in mind, it is worth considering whether the apparent use of such information by the Labour Party, in a new website widget, is a use which can be described as “for electoral purposes”. The widget in question invites people to submit their name (or indeed anyone else’s), email address and postcode and it will tell you how many voters in the country have that name. Thus, I find that there are 393 voters who have the name “Christopher Graham”. The widget then encourages users to register to vote. In small print underneath it says

in case you’re interested, this tool uses an aggregate figure from the electoral register and we’ve taken steps to protect the privacy of individuals

Well, I am interested. I’m interested to know whether this use of the electoral register is purely for electoral purposes. If it is, if its purpose is to encourage people to register to vote, then why does it need an email address? The widget goes on to say

The Labour Party and its elected representatives may contact you about issues we think you may be interested in or with campaign updates. You may unsubscribe at any point. You can see our privacy policy here.

But if they are using the electoral register to encourage people to give up email addresses which may then receive political marketing, surely this is stretching the use of “for electoral purposes” too far? Moreover, and despite the small print privacy notice, and the almost-hidden link to a generic privacy policy, any emails received by individuals will be likely to be sent in contravention of Labour’s obligations under The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR), which give effect to the UK’s obligations under Directive 2002/58/EC. This is because regulation 22 of PECR prohibits, in terms, the sending of electronic direct marketing (and promotion of a political party constitutes such marketing) without the prior consent of the recipient. Consent, the Directive tells us, must be “a freely given specific and informed indication of the user’s wishes”.  A vague description, as the widget here gives us, of what may happen if one submits an email address, and a statement about unsubscribing, do not legitimise any subsequent sending of direct marketing.

The email address I used is one I reserve for catching spammers; I’ve not received anything yet, but I expect to do so. I would be prepared to argue that any email I receive cannot be said to relate to the electoral purpose which permit use of the electoral register, and will be sent in contravention of PECR.  As I said recently, one of the key battlegrounds in the 2015 general election will be online, and unless action is taken to restrain abuse of people’s personal information, things will get nasty.

1The legislation.gov.uk doesn’t provide updated (“consolidated”) versions of secondary legislation, so there’s no point in linking to their version of the regulations.

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

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Filed under consent, Data Protection, marketing, PECR, privacy notice

Online privacy – a general election battleground

It’s becoming increasingly clear that one of the key battlegrounds in the 2015 General Election will be online. The BBC’s Ross Hawkins reports that the Conservatives are spending large amounts each month on Facebook advertising, and Labour and UKIP, while not having the means to spend as much, are ramping up their online campaigning. But, as Hawkins says

the aim is not to persuade people to nod thoughtfully while they stare at a screen. They want consumers of their online media to make donations or, even better, to get their friends’ support or to knock on doors in marginal constituencies…[but] for all the novelties of online marketing, email remains king. Those Tory Facebook invoices show that most of the money was spent encouraging Conservative supporters to hand over their email addresses. Labour and the Conservatives send emails to supporters, and journalists, that appear to come from their front benchers, pleading for donations

I know this well, because in July last year, after growing weary of blogging about questionable compliance with ePrivacy laws by all the major parties and achieving nothing, I set a honey trap: I submitted an email address to the Conservative, Labour, LibDem, Green, UKIP, SNP and Plaid Cymru websites. In each case I was apparently agreeing with a proposition (such as the particularly egregious LibDem FGM example)  giving no consent to reuse, and in each case there was no clear privacy notice which accorded with the Information Commissioner’s Office’s Privacy Notices Code of Practice (I do not, and nor does the ICO, at least if one refers to that Code, accept that a generic website privacy policy is sufficient in case like this). Since then, the fictional, and trusting but naive, Pam Catchers (geddit??!!) has received over 60 emails, from all parties contacted. A lot of them begin, “Friend, …” and exhort Pam to perform various types of activism. Of course, as a fictional character, Pam might have trouble enforcing her rights, or complaining to the ICO, but the fact is that this sort of bad, and illegal, practice, is rife.

To be honest, I thought Pam would receive more than this number of unsolicited emails (but I’m probably more cynical than her). But the point is that each of these emails was sent in breach of the parties’ obligations under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR) which demands that recipients of electronic direct marketing communications must have given explicit consent prior to the sending. By extension, therefore, the parties are also in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), which, when requiring “fair” processing of personal data, makes clear that a valid privacy notice must be given in order to achieve this.

The ICO makes clear that promotion by a political party can constitute direct marketing, and has previously taken enforcement action to try to ensure compliance. It has even produced guidance for parties about their PECR and DPA obligations. This says

In recent years we have investigated complaints about political parties and referendum campaigners using direct marketing, and on occasion we have used our enforcement powers to prevent them doing the same thing again. Failure to comply with an enforcement notice is a criminal offence.

But by “recent” I think they are referring at least six years back.

A data controller’s compliance, or lack thereof, with data protection laws in one area is likely to be indicative of its attitude to compliance elsewhere. Surely the time has come for the ICO at least to remind politicians that online privacy rights are not to be treated with contempt?

The views in this post (and indeed all posts on this blog) are my personal ones, and do not represent the views of any organisation I am involved with.

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The Crown Estate and behavioural advertising

A new app for Regent Street shoppers will deliver targeted behavioural advertising – is it processing personal data?

My interest was piqued by a story in the Telegraph that

Regent Street is set to become the first shopping street in Europe to pioneer a mobile phone app which delivers personalised content to shoppers during their visit

Although this sounds like my idea of hell, it will no doubt appeal to some people. It appears that a series of Bluetooth beacons will deliver mobile content (for which, read “targeted behavioural advertising”) to the devices of users who have installed the Regent Street app. Users will indicate their shopping preferences, and a profile of them will be built by the app.

Electronic direct marketing in the UK is ordinarily subject to compliance with The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (“PECR”). However, the definition of “electronic mail” in PECR is “any text, voice, sound or image message sent over a public electronic communications network or in the recipient’s terminal equipment until it is collected by the recipient and includes messages sent using a short message service”. In 2007 the Information Commissioner, upon receipt of advice, changed his previous stance that Bluetooth marketing would be caught by PECR, to one under which it would not be caught, because Bluetooth does not involve a “public electronic communications network”. Nonetheless, general data protection law relating to consent to direct marketing will still apply, and the Direct Marketing Association says

Although Bluetooth is not considered to fall within the definition of electronic mail under the current PECR, in practice you should consider it to fall within the definition and obtain positive consent before using it

This reference to “positive consent” reflects the definition in the Data Protection directive, which says that it is

any freely given specific and informed indication of his wishes by which the data subject signifies his agreement to personal data relating to him being processed

And that word “informed” is where I start to have a possible problem with this app. Ever one for thoroughness, I decided to download it, to see what sort of privacy information it provided. There wasn’t much, but in the Terms and Conditions (which don’t appear to be viewable until you download the app) it did say

The App will create a profile for you, known as an autoGraph™, based on information provided by you using the App. You will not be asked for any personal information (such as an email address or phone number) and your profile will not be shared with third parties

autograph (don’t forget the™) is software which, in its words “lets people realise their interests, helping marketers drive response rates”, and it does so by profiling its users

In under one minute without knowing your name, email address or any personally identifiable information, autograph can figure out 5500 dimensions about you – age, income, likes and dislikes – at over 90% accuracy, allowing businesses to serve what matters to you – offers, programs, music… almost anything

Privacy types might notice the jarring words in that blurb. Apparently the software can quickly “figure out” thousands of potential identifiers about a user, without knowing “any personally identifiable information”. To me, that’s effectively saying “we will create a personally identifiable profile of you, without using any personally identifiable information”. The fact of the matter is that people’s likes, dislikes, preferences, choices etc (and does this app capture device information, such as IMEI?) can all be used to build up a picture which renders them identifiable. It is trite law that “personal data” is data which relate to a living individual who can be identified from those data or from those data and other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller. The Article 29 Working Party (made up of representatives from the data protection authorities of each EU member state) delivered an Opinion in 2010 on online behavioural advertising which stated that

behavioural advertising is based on the use of identifiers that enable the creation of very detailed user profiles which, in most cases, will be deemed personal data

If this app is, indeed, processing personal data, then I would suggest that the limited Terms and Conditions (which users are not even pointed to when they download the app, let alone be invited to agree them) are inadequate to mean that a user is freely giving specific and informed consent to the processing. And if the app is processing personal data to deliver electronic marketing failure to comply with PECR might not matter, but failure to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 brings potential liability to legal claims and enforcement action.

The Information Commissioner last year produced good guidance on Privacy in Mobile Apps which states that

Users of your app must be properly informed about what will happen to their personal data if they install and use the app. This is part of Principle 1 in the DPA which states that “Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully”. For processing to be fair, the user must have suitable information about the processing and they must to be told about the purposes

The relevant data controller for Regent Street Online happens to be The Crown Estate. On the day that the Queen sent her first tweet, it is interesting to consider the extent to which her own property company are in compliance with their obligations under privacy laws.

This post has been edited as a result of comments on the original, which highlighted that PECR does not, in strict terms, apply to Bluetooth marketing

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Filed under consent, Data Protection, Directive 95/46/EC, Information Commissioner, marketing, PECR, Privacy, tracking

Lib Dems in breach of ePrivacy laws?

As I’ve written on several occasions recently, the sending of direct marketing emails without the consent of the recipient is, as a general principle, unlawful under European and domestic law.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) guidance makes clear that promotion of a political party, campaign or candidate is “direct marketing” for the purposes of the Privacy and Electronic Communication (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR):

We take a broad view of what constitutes marketing and are satisfied that it is not only the offer for sale of goods or services but also includes the promotion of the aims and ideals of any organisation including political campaigns.
On 20 July I noted this on the Liberal Democrats’ home page
 
libdem
A campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation is a worthy one (and not a party political issue) and one I’m happy to put my name to. However, I did have my suspicions, so set up a new email address, entered that into the box, and clicked “I agree”. There was no indication of what would happen with my email address once I had done this, although there was, at the very foot of the page, a small unobtrusive link to a “privacy policy” (of which more later).
 
What did happen was, firstly, and straight away, I received the following email
receipt1
 which was fair enough. At the foot of that email was this message
receipt
again, fair enough, and that should be the end of my engagement with the Lib Dems.
  
But, you will perhaps be unsurprised to hear, it wasn’t. Two days later I received this, from Lynn Featherstone MP
featherstone
which at least was on the subject of FGM, but I was surprised she considered herself my “friend”. And two days after that I found I’d made another friend:
nick
So, a few days after I’d expressed my support for a non-party-political campaign, I was on first name terms with a political party leader, who was sending me an unsolicited marketing email. Which takes us back to PECR, and consent, and my myriad previous blog posts.
 
I thought I’d check exactly what the Lib Dems website privacy policy says. Of course there’s the usual guff about taking privacy seriously, but it goes on to say
If you provide your email address…we may use the email address to send you further information in the future. You may at any point request not to receive such information any more.
And there it is, in clear terms – a statement of non-compliance with the law. They cannot, under regulation 22(2) of PECR, infer consent to receive marketing emails merely because someone has provided an email address. I will be complaining to the Lib Dems, and, if necessary, the Information Commissioner’s Office.

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Privacy issues with Labour Party website

Two days ago I wrote about a page on the Labour Party website which was getting considerable social media coverage. It encourages people to submit their date of birth to find out, approximately, of all the births under the NHS, what number they were.

I was concerned that it was grabbing email address without an opt-out option. Since then, I’ve been making a nuisance of myself asking, via twitter, various Labour politicians and activists for their comments. I know I’m an unimportant blogger, and it was the weekend, but only one chose to reply: councillor for Lewisham Mike Harris, who, as campaign director for DontSpyOnUs, I would expect to be concerned, and, indeed, to his credit, he said “You make a fair point, there should be the ability to opt out”. Mike suggested I email Labour’s compliance team.

In the interim I’d noticed that elsewhere on the Labour website there were other examples of emails being grabbed in circumstances where people would not be sure about the collection. For instance: this “calculator” which purports to calculate how much less people would pay under Labour for energy bills, which gives no privacy notice whatsoever. Or even this, on the home page, which similarly gives no information about what will happen with your data

homepage

Now, some might say that, if you’re giving your details to “get involved”, then you are consenting to further contact. This is probably true, but it doesn’t mean the practice is properly compliant with data collection laws. And this is not unimportant; as well as potentially contributing to the global spam problem, poor privacy notices/lack of opt-out facilities at the point of collection of email address contribute to the unnecessary amassing of private information, and when it is done by a political party, this can even be dangerous. It should not need pointing out that, historically, and elsewhere in the world, political party lists have often been used by opposition parties and repressive governments to target and oppress activists. Indeed, the presence of one’s email on a party marketing database might well constitute sensitive personal data – as it can be construed as information on one’s political opinions (per section 2 of the Data Protection Act 1998).

So, these are not unimportant issues, and I decided to follow Mike Harris’s suggestion to email Labour’s compliance unit. However, the contact details I found on the overarching privacy policy merely gave a postal address. I did notice though that that page said

If you have any questions about our privacy policy, the information we have collected from you online, the practices of this site or your interaction with this website, please contact us by clicking here

But if I follow the “clicking here” link, it takes me to – wait for it – a contact form which gives no information whatsoever about what will happen if I submit it, other than the rather stalinesque

The Labour Party may contact you using the information you supply

And returning to the overarching privacy policy didn’t assist here – none of the categories on that page fitted the circumstances of someone contacting the party to make a general enquiry.

I see that the mainstream media have been covering the NHS birth page which originally prompted me to look at this issue. Some, like the Metro, and unsurprisingly, the Mirror, are wholly uncritical. The Independent does note that it is a clever way of harvesting emails, but fails to note the questionable legality of the practice. Given that this means that more and more email addresses will be hoovered up, without people fully understanding why, and what will happen with them, I really think that senior party figures, and the Information Commissioner, should start looking at Labour’s online privacy activities.

(By the way, if anyone thinks this is a politically-motivated post by me, I would point out that, until 2010, when I voted tactically (never again), I had only ever voted for one party in my whole life, and that wasn’t the Conservatives or the Lib Dems.)

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Filed under Data Protection, Information Commissioner, marketing, PECR, Privacy, privacy notice, social media, tracking

Labour Party website – unfair processing?

Earlier this year I wrote about a questionable survey on the Conservative Party website, which failed to comply with the legal requirements regarding capture of email addresses. It is perhaps unsurprising to see something similar now being done in the name of the Labour Party.

An innocuous looking form on Labour’s donation pages lies underneath a statement that almost 44 million babies have been delivered under NHS care since 1948. The form invites people to find out what number their birth was. There are of course lots of this type of thing on the internet: “What was number one when you were born?” “Find out which Banana Split you are” etc. But this one, as well as asking for people’s date of birth, asks for their (first) name, email address and postcode. And, sure enough, underneath, in small print that I suspect they hope people won’t read, it says

The Labour Party and its elected representatives may contact you about issues we think you may be interested in or with campaign updates. You may unsubscribe at any point

So, they’ll have your email address, your first name and a good idea of where you live (cue lots of “Hi Jon” emails, telling me about great initiatives in my area). All very predictable and dispiriting. And also almost certainly unlawful: regulation 22(2) of The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR) says that

a person shall neither transmit, nor instigate the transmission of, unsolicited communications for the purposes of direct marketing by means of electronic mail unless the recipient of the electronic mail has previously notified the sender that he consents for the time being to such communications being sent by, or at the instigation of, the sender

This Labour web page impermissibly infers consent. The European Directive  to which PECR give domestic effect makes clear in recital 40 that electronic marketing requires that prior, explicit consent  be obtained. Furthermore the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), issues clear guidance on PECR and marketing, and this says

Organisations must give the customer the chance to opt out – both when they first collect the details, and in every email or text. Organisations should not assume that all customers will be happy to get marketing texts or emails in future…It must be simple to opt out. When first collecting a customer’s details, this should be part of the same process (eg online forms should include a prominent opt-out box…

The ICO’s guidance on political campaigning is (given the likelihood of abuse) disappointingly less clear, but it does say that “An organisation must have the individual’s consent to communicate with them [by email]”. I rather suspect the Labour Party would try to claim that the small print would suffice to meet this consent point, but a) it wouldn’t get them past the hurdle of giving the option to opt out at the point of collection of data, and b) in the circumstances it would crash them into the hurdle of “fairness”. The political campaigning guidance gives prominence to this concept

It is not just in an organisation’s interests to act lawfully, but it should also have respect for the privacy of the individuals it seeks to represent by treating them fairly. Treating individuals fairly includes using their information only in a way they would expect

I do not think the majority of people completing the Labour Party’s form, which on the face of it simply returns a number relating to when they were born, would expect their information to be used for future political campaigning. So it appears to be in breach of PECR, not fair, and also, of course (by reference to the first principle in Schedule One) in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. Maybe the ICO will want to take a look.

UPDATE:

I see that this page is being pushed quite hard by the party. Iain McNicol, General Secretary, and described as “promoter” of the page has tweeted about it, as have shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham and Ed Miliband himself. One wonders how many email addresses have been gathered in this unfair and potentially unlawful way.

 

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Filed under consent, Data Protection, Information Commissioner, marketing, PECR