RSPCA and British Heart Foundation Fined

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So it’s getting closer and closer to Christmas – a time for giving, with more and more charity adverts on the TV, on the radio, on social media – in fact  pretty much everywhere you look. Although Christmas can be a bit tight on the purse strings thousands of people still give to their favourite charities. 

Whether you’re helping children, refugees, animals or cancer or medical research, these organisations all promote that the money goes to a good cause. Unless this ‘good cause’ is to pay an ICO fine…?

Two of the major charities we all know and love are the RSPCA and the British Heart Foundation. And both have been under investigation for secretly screening its donors aiming to target those with more money. This process is known as “wealth-screening”. 

The two organisations hired wealth management companies who pieced together information on its donors from publicly available sources to build data on their income, property value and even friendship circles. This allowed for a massive pool of donor data to be created and sold.

The RSPCA and BHF were part of a scheme called Reciprocate where they could share and swap data with other charities to find prospective donors. Donors to both charities were given an opt-out option. 

Information included in the scheme was people’s names, addresses, date of birth and the value and date of their last donation. The ICO ruled that the charities didn’t provide a clear enough explanation to allow consumers to make an educated decision what it was they were signing up for, and therefore ruled that they had therefore not given their consent.

The RSPCA has admitted that it was not aware of the actual charities with whom they were sharing their data.  It also became clear that the charity shared data of those donors who had opted out. 

The BHF insists it had all the correct permissions. However the ICO disagrees on the basis that the charities with whom they were sharing the data were not for similar causes.

The ICO has fined the RSPCA £25,000 and the British Heart Foundation £18,000. Ironically the BJF was praised on its data handling by the ICO in June this year, and it is likely to appeal the fine. 

In my opinion I feel the whole thing is a mess. I like to give to charity when I can, which if I’m honest, isn’t as frequent as I’d like. 

However when you hear of debacles like this, it really does put you off. I want my money to go to a good cause. I don’t want my data being shared without my knowledge so that other charities can investigate how much I earn, whether I own my property and what social circles I move in, and then decide whether I’m worth targeting. Surely these charities should be thankful for every single donation. The widow’s mite springs to mind. 

I feel for the poor animals and souls that rely on these charities, who are I’m sure going to take a hit from these fines. It’s not their fault, yet no doubt it’s them that’s going to pay the price.

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Written by Charlotte Seymour, 8th December 2016.

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