Political parties are to be investigated over concerns they abuse personal data to target adverts at internet users.
Amid concerns of a ‘Facebook election’ dominated by unverified claims on social media, the Information Commissioner launched a review into the use of online data.
Elizabeth Denham’s probe will consider whether parties are using information about the websites users visit to target adverts at them on Facebook and Snapchat.
The Tories and Labour are expected to spend £1million each on social media adverts
She confirmed last night that the review would examine behaviour during the campaign and warned candidates to stick to the rules.
The Tories and Labour are expected to spend £1million each on social media adverts.
The investigation by the Information Commissioner follows allegations involving an analytics firm linked to a Brexit campaign.
In March, pro-Remain Labour MP Stephen Kinnock called on the Electoral Commission to investigate allegations that Leave.EU had not declared the role of Cambridge Analytica in its campaign.
Miss Denham told the BBC: ‘What we’re trying to do is shine the light on the use of personal data of voters to target them in some way during political campaigns.
‘It’s important the public understands how their data may be used.
‘There’s been allegations, there’s been a lot of trade and analysis of people’s digital trails online that then allows political campaigns to serve up ads that are micro-targeted to individuals.’
On her blog, Miss Denham added: ‘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.’
Elizabeth Denham’s probe will consider whether parties are using information about the websites users visit to target adverts at them on Facebook, run by Mark Zuckerberg (pictured), and Snapchat
Miss Denham said it was understandable that political campaigns were exploring the potential of advanced data analysis tools.
But she added: ‘The public have the right to expect that this takes place in accordance with the law.
‘This is a complex and rapidly evolving area of activity and the level of awareness among the public about how data analytics works, and how their personal data is collected, shared and used through such tools, is low.
‘What is clear is that these tools have a significant potential impact on individuals’ privacy.
‘It is important that there is greater and genuine transparency about the use of such techniques to ensure that people have control over their own data and the law is upheld.’
In March, pro-Remain Labour MP Stephen Kinnock called on the Electoral Commission to investigate allegations that Leave.EU had not declared the role of Cambridge Analytica in its campaign
A Tory spokesman said: ‘The Conservative Party fully complies with all the requirements of electoral and information law.
‘Digital campaigning techniques help ensure that the public are informed, and will drive up democratic participation across society.’
Leave.EU’s head of communications Andy Wigmore said there was ‘nothing to investigate’.
He said the Information Commissioner was under ‘political pressure based on stories which are completely false’.
The probe was announced on the day the Electoral Commission said voters could be deceived by online election adverts because of a lack of adequate regulation. Claire Bassett, its chief executive, said it was often impossible for web users to tell who was paying for political messages.
While traditional leaflets have to bear an imprint saying which party they came from, social media messages do not.
The commission is teaming up with Snapchat to urge young people to register to vote by the May 22 deadline.