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Political parties are facing a formal investigation into their use of Facebook users’ private data as a means of targeting them with personalised adverts.
The Information Commissioner’s Office is to launch a wider assessment of how the social media platform is being used in political campaigning, following allegations involving an analytics firm linked to a Brexit campaign.
The investigation in to data protection risks follows a call by Labour’s Stephen Kinnock for the Electoral Commission to look in to allegations that Leave.EU had not declared the role of an analytics firm during the Brexit campaign.
Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s Information Commissioner told BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show there were “a lot of question marks” around how voters’ “very precise” data is being used.
“There has been some strong allegations made about the ability of companies to work with campaigns to microtarget individuals so using their digital trails online to be able to identify where their political leanings may be and target them in some way.”
Denham said her office had met with the major political parties in recent weeks and that they have “refreshed” data protection guidance for both parties and campaigns.
“All of this is to remind them that the law applies to the collection of data even when we are talking about Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. Again, that is data,” she added.
She said allegations had been made that digital trails were used to analyse and then used to “serve up ads that are micro-targeted to those individuals”.
“I think if political campaigns or third party companies are able to gather up very precise digital trails to then individually target people I think that is an area where they are going to be off-side the law,” she added.