The Information Commissioner has launched a formal inquiry into political parties’ use of data analytics to target voters amid concerns that peoples privacy could be put at risk by new campaign tactics.
Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, warned that there was a “significant potential impact on individuals’ privacy” from politicians increasingly using voters’ personal data harvested from their Facebook feeds.
Ms Denham told the Radio 4 Media Show: “Facebook and other social media platforms are very powerful. I think things are shifting in terms of their role and what they actually are. It’s not just a platform anymore, there are some legal and social responsibilities too for them.”
The Commissioner said she had the power to fine Facebook and other platforms if it uncovered any serious misuse of data.
She recommended that people set their Facebook profiles to the “highest security setting” during the election campaign.
Ms Denham said the investigation was a “high priority for her team” and that she had made contact with all the major parties involved in the General Election campaign.
The Conservative party HQ has already launched a wave of digital attack adverts targeting Jeremy Corbyn into voters’ Facebook feeds.
The investigation follows allegations about Cambridge Analytica (CA), a firm said to have helped the Leave.EU campaign win last year’s referendum by micro-targeting individual voters based on sophisticated psychometric profiling of Facebook users.
The firm claimed to have collected up to 5,000 items of data on over 220 million American voters during the 2016 US Presidential election campaign.
Advanced data tools
Ms Denham said it was “understandable” that “political campaigns are exploring the potential of advanced data analysis tools to help win votes”, but said the “public have the right to expect that this takes place in accordance with the law”.
Announcing the plans, Ms Denham said: “Having considered the evidence we have already gathered I have decided to open a formal investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes.
“This will involve deepening our current activity to explore practices deployed during the UK’s EU referendum campaign but potentially also in other campaigns.”