Following revelations last week that the US firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) allegedly consulted Leave.EU in the build up to the EU referendum, it’s emerged that UK privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), is launching an inquiry into the way that voters’ personal data is being used in political campaigns.
The inquiry comes at a time when technological is being used to inform election strategies at a pace that electoral laws are struggling to keep up with. In the case of CA, the algorithms created by the company are used to create targeted political communications based on the tone of users’ social media activity.
While there were originally calls for Leave.EU to be investigated by the Electoral Commission for failing to declare the input of CA, which could amount to a donation in kind, the ICO is now investigating CA’s role based on concerns around data protection. The ICO spokeswoman has confirmed:
“We are conducting a wide assessment of the data-protection risks arising from the use of data analytics, including for political purposes, and will be contacting a range of organisations…We intend to publicise our findings later this year.’’
While there are no laws against using third party data without consent in the US, European and UK law surrounding Facebook are the same as for other data types. However, as options do exist to opt out of Facebook and WhatsApp data being used for advertising purposes, it seems that any investigation will focus on how social data is used, as opposed to it being used per se.
CA denies it has used Facebook activity to inform any UK or European projects they take part in. A spokesman for the company has confirmed ‘’we are in touch with the ICO, and are happy to demonstrate that we are completely compliant with UK and EU data law.”