Tag Archives: consent

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

Ticking off Neelie Kroes (sort of)

In which I take issue with the European Commission V-P about what the Consumer Rights Directive says about pre-ticked boxes

I found myself retweeting what I think was a rather misleading message from the Vice-President of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes. Her tweet said

You know those annoying “pre-ticked boxes” on shopping/travel websites? They’re banned in #EU from today http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-655_en.htm#eCommerce

I thought this was very interesting, particularly in light of my recent post about the implying of consent to electronic marketing if people forget to untick such boxes. The EU press release itself does say at one point

Under the new EU rules…consumers can now rely on…A ban on pre-ticked boxes on the internet, as for example when they buy plane tickets

But, it earlier says

The new rules also ban…pre-ticked boxes on websites for charging additional payments (for example when buying plane tickets online)

The emphasis I’ve added in that last quote is crucial. What DIRECTIVE 2011/83/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 25 October 2011 on consumer rights actually proscribes is the contractual binding of a consumer to any payment in addition to the original remuneration agreed on if

the trader has not obtained the consumer’s express consent but has inferred it by using default options which the consumer is required to reject in order to avoid the additional payment

 So, as the press release explains,

When shopping online –for example when buying a plane ticket – you may be offered additional options during the purchase process, such as travel insurance or car rental. These additional services may be offered through so-called pre-ticked boxes. Consumers are currently often forced to untick those boxes if they do not want these extra services. With the new Directive, pre-ticked boxes will be banned across the European Union.

I happen to think that that text should more properly say “With the new Directive, pre-ticked boxes of this sort will be banned across the European Union”.

So, no ban on pre-ticked boxes themselves, just on those which purport to bind a consumer to an additional payment under a contract.

The Directive has been implemented in the UK by  The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 and associated The Enterprise Act 2002 (Part 8 EU Infringements) Order 2013 the former of which says (at regulation 40)

Under a contract between a trader and a consumer, no payment is payable in addition to the remuneration agreed for the trader’s main obligation unless, before the consumer became bound by the contract, the trader obtained the consumer’s express consent.. There is no express consent (if there would otherwise be) for the purposes of this paragraph if consent is inferred from the consumer not changing a default option (such as a pre-ticked box on a website)

Having said all this, I do think it is interesting that clearly-defined concepts of “express consent” are making their way into European and domestic legislation. And in due course, we may even find that, for instance, electronic marketing will be restrained unless similarly clearly-defined express consent is given. But not just yet.

Update: Ms Kroes kindly replied to me, saying it’s difficult to get a message across in 140 characters. So true.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Data Protection, Europe, marketing, PECR