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UK Conservative party faces enquiries from privacy regulator for micro-targeting

The UK's privacy watchdog is "making enquiries".

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s online campaign’s privacy policy, flagged by a Twitter user to the Information Commissioner’s office, has already caught the attention of the country’s data protection watchdog.

The policy is linked to a call to action asking Brits to submit to the party their private data, alongside asking them to say what the “most important issue” is for them and their family.

Users responding to the call to action have to pick from a preset list of 18 issues the three most important to them. The list contains items such as Brexit, the National Health Service, terrorism, the environment, animal welfare, racism, housing, and so on. Responders also select from a list of how they voted at the last General Election and are asked which party they would vote for in the event of an upcoming General Election.

Users submit their data to the online survey and are asked to share the survey among their friends with “strong views about the issues” via links to Facebook, Twitter or email.

“By clicking Submit, I agree to the Conservative Party using the information I provide to keep me updated via email, online advertisements and direct mail about the Party’s campaigns and opportunities to get involved.” The ‘submit — and see more’ button links to the Privacy Policy, that contains “more information”.

Clicking through to the privacy policy will present users with a list of examples of the type of information the party is looking to collect from them. The information includes:

1)     “opinions on topical issues”
2)     “family connections”
3)     “IP address, cookies and other technical information that you may share when you interact with our website”
4)      “commercially available data – such as consumer, lifestyle, household and behavioural data”.

“We may also collect special categories of information such as: Political Opinions; Voting intentions; Racial or ethnic origin; Religious views,” the policy continues, adding that the legal basis for accessing and processing this information is for promoting “democratic engagement and our legitimate interest to understand the electorate and identify Conservative supporters”.

The policy further notes that the data harvested will interact with data from other sources, including the commercially-available ones, to profile voters and to make predictions “about your lifestyle and habits”.

By doing this, the party’s algorithm will be able to determine whether or not to send campaign material and, in case, customize the message it delivers to its audience.

In other words, this is another example of social media ad micro-targeting applied to a political agenda. The practice, that is still unregulated, had already raised the concerns of the UK’s information commissioner, who warned last year about the risks of undermining faith in democracy.

The Conservative Party, however, claims in its policy that it has “determined that this kind of automation and profiling does not create legal or significant effects for you. Nor does it affect the legal rights that you have over your data.”

ICO informed said “this is something we are aware of and we are making enquiries.”

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