Category Archives: Data Security

HMRC’s 28 days to delete unlawfully obtained biometric data

In a statement released on 3rd May, the Information Commissioner’s Office reiterated their decision to issue HMRC a preliminary enforcement notice in early April. This initial notice was based on an investigation conducted by the ICO after a complaint from Big Brother Watch concerning HMRC’s Voice ID service on a number of the department’s helplines since January 2017.

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The voice authentication for customer verification uses a type of biometric data considered special category information under the GDPR, and is therefore subject to stricter conditions. ICO’s investigation found that HMRC did “not give customers sufficient information about how their biometric data would be processed and failed to give them the chance to give or withhold consent.” HMRC was therefore in breach of GDPR.

The preliminary enforcement notice issued by the ICO on April 4th stated that HMRC must delete all data within the Voice ID system for which the department was never given explicit consent to have or use. According to Big Brother Watch, this data amounted to approximately five million records of customers’ voices. These records would have been obtained on HMRC’s helplines, but due to poor data security policy for the Voice ID system, the customers had no means of explicitly consenting to HMRC’s processing of this data.

Steve Wood, Deputy Commissioner at the ICO, stated, “We welcome HMRC’s prompt action to begin deleting personal data that it obtained unlawfully. Our investigation exposed a significant breach of data protection law – HMRC appears to have given little or no consideration to it with regard to its Voice ID service.”

The final enforcement notice is expected 10th May. This will give HMRC a twenty-eight-day timeframe to complete the deletion of this large compilation of biometric data.

The director of Big Brother Watch, Silkie Carlo, was encouraged by the ICO’s actions:

“To our knowledge, this is the biggest ever deletion of biometric IDs from a state-held database. This sets a vital precedent for biometrics collection and the database state, showing that campaigners and the ICO have real teeth and no government department is above the law.”

 Harry Smithson, May 2019. 

Be Data Aware: the ICO’s campaign to improve data awareness

As the Information Commissioners Office’s ongoing investigation into the political weaponisation of data analytics and harvesting sheds more and more light on the reckless use of ‘algorithms, analysis, data matching and profiling’ involving personal information, consumers are becoming more data conscious. The ICO, as of 8th May, has launched an awareness campaign, featuring a video, legal factsheets reminding citizens of their rights under GDPR, and advice guidelines on internet behaviour. Currently the campaign is floating on Twitter under #BeDataAware.

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While the public is broadly aware of targeted marketing, and fairly accustomed to the process of companies attempting to reach certain demographics, the political manipulation of data is considered, if not a novel threat, then a problem compounded by the new frontier of online data analytics. Ipsos MORI’s UK Cyber Survey conducted on behalf of the DCMS found that 80% of respondents considered cyber security to be a ‘high priority,’ but that many of these people would not be in groups likely to take much action to prevent cybercrime personally. What this could indicate is that while consumers may be concerned about cybercrime being used against themselves, they are also aware of broader social, economic and political dangers that the inappropriate or illegal use of personal information poses.

ICO’s video (currently on Vimeo, but not YouTube), titled ‘Your Data Matters,’ asks at the beginning, “When you search for a holiday, do you notice online adverts become much more specific?” Proceeding to graphics detailing this relatively well-known phenomenon, the video then draws a parallel with political targeting: “Did you know political campaigners use these same targeting techniques, personalising their campaign messaging to you, trying to influence your vote?” Importantly, the video concludes, “You have the right to know who is targeting you and how your data is used.”

To take a major example of an organisation trying to facilitate this right, Facebook allows users to see why they may have been targeted by an advert with a clickable, dropdown option called ‘Why am I seeing this?’ Typically, the answer will read ‘[Company] is trying to reach [gender] between the ages X – Y in [Country].’ But the question remains as to whether this will be sufficiently detailed in the future. With growing pressure on organisations to pursue best practice when it comes to data security, and with the public’s growing perception of the political ramifications of data security policies, will consumers and concerned parties demand more information on, for instance, which of their online behaviours have caused them to be targeted?

A statement from the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham as part of the Be Data Aware campaign has placed the ICO’s data security purview firmly in the context of upholding democratic values.

“Our goal is to effect change and ensure confidence in our democratic system. And that can only happen if people are fully aware of how organisations are using their data, particularly if it happens behind the scenes.

“New technologies and data analytics provide persuasive tools that allow campaigners to connect with voters and target messages directly at them based on their likes, swipes and posts. But this cannot be at the expense of transparency, fairness and compliance with the law.”

Uproar surrounding the data analytics scandal, epitomised by Cambridge Analytica’s data breach beginning in 2014, highlights the public’s increasing impatience with the reckless use of data. The politicisation of cybercrime, and greater knowledge and understanding of data misuse, means that consumers will be far less forgiving of companies that are not seen to be taking information security seriously.

Harry Smithson 9 May 2019

Data Compliant GDPR panic

GDPR – panic … or not?

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GDPR – don’t get bogged down by fear-mongering and myth

GDPR is beset with myth, rumour, and so-called experts. The amount of confusion and misinformation provided is incredibly detrimental. And this is largely because many organisations and individuals who are trying to promote their services are using fear tactics to do so.

But they’re missing the point.

We have a Data Protection Act currently in place, and Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations to support it.  Any organisation which is ignoring the current data protection legislation has every reason to panic about GDPR. Ignorance is no excuse.  And they won’t be able to get away with ignoring GDPR willfully just because they consider data protection an inconvenient restriction preventing them taking unethical actions to make more money.

On the other hand, organisations who conform to the current legislation have a head-start when addressing how to comply with the new regulation.

GDPR – a simple summary

At its simplest, GDPR is a long-overdue evolution which is primarily about all organisations (whether data controllers or data processors):

  1. putting the individual first
  2. being held accountable for protecting that individual’s data

At the same time, GDPR addresses the vast changes to the data landscape since the original data protection legislation of the 1990s:

  • it takes account of technological advances – bear in mind, there was barely an internet in the early ’90s!
  • it seeks to protect EU citizens from  misuse of their personal data wherever that data is processed
  • it addresses (at least in part) the disparity in data protection legislation throughout the EU and its members

GDPR increases both compliance obligations on the part of organisations, and enforcement powers on the part of the regulator.

Compliance Obligations:  The principle of Accountability puts a heavy administrative burden on data controllers and data processors.  Robust record-keeping in relation to all data processing is essential; evidenced decisions around data processing will be critical.

Enforcement Powers:  Yes, there are massive fines for non-compliance.  And yes, they will go up to £20,000,000 or 4% of global turnover.  But is that really the key headline?

GDPR’s Key Message:  Put the Individual First

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As GDPR comes closer, individuals are going to become increasingly aware of their rights – new and old

All organisations who process personal data need to understand that individuals must be treated fairly, and have, under GDPR, greater rights than before.  This means that organisations need to be transparent about their data processing activity, and take full responsibility for protecting the personal or personally identifiable data they process.

What does that mean in practice?

  • Tell the individuals what you intend to do with their data – and make it absolutely plain what you mean
  • Explain that there’s a value exchange – by all means help them understand the benefits to providing the data and allowing the processing – but don’t tell lies, and don’t mislead them
  • If you don’t want to tell them what you’re doing … you probably shouldn’t be doing it
  • If you need their consent, make sure you obtain it fairly, with simple messaging and utter clarity around precisely what it is to which they are consenting
  • Tell them all their rights (including the right to withdraw consent; to object to processing where relevant; to be provided with all the information you hold about them, to be forgotten, etc)
  • Always balance your rights as an organisation against their rights as an individual

Look out for your Reputation

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Never underestimate the reputational damage caused by a data breach

The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, states clearly that, while the ICO has heavy-weight power to levy massive fines, “we intend to use those powers proportionately and judiciously”.  So the ICO may issue warnings, reprimands, corrective orders and fines, but that could be the least of your worries.

Something that tends to be overlooked when talking about penalties of non-compliance is reputational damage.  All the ICO’s sanctions (from warnings to fines) are published on the ICO website.  And the press loves nothing more than a nice, juicy data breach.

So even if no fine is levied, reputations will suffer.  At worst, customers will be lost.  Shareholders will lose confidence.  Revenues will decline.  Board members will lose their jobs.  And, to quote Denham again, “You can’t insure against that.”

Victoria Tuffill     18th August 2017

Data Compliant advises on GDPR compliance – if you’d like more information, please call 01787 277742 or email dc@datacompliant.co.uk

 

Data Protection Weekly Round-up: New Data Protection Bill; the impact of Brexit; £150k fines for failure to apply TPS

This week there’s been much in the media about the UK’s upcoming new Data Protection Bill.  Unfortunately some of the reporting has been unclear, providing very woolly information on some of the new rights of individuals, and the circumstances they do – or do not – apply.  Nonetheless, the main story is that the Data Protection Act will be replaced and that it will include the requirements of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In other news, the ICO has taken further action against companies who fail to follow the current Data Protection Act and PECR regulations.  This week the spotlight falls on companies who fail to screen their call lists against TPS.  This illegal behaviour has resulted in fines of £150,000 for the week.

Data Protection Bill set to be read out in Parliament in September

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As promised in the Queen’s Speech, GDPR will become part of the UK’s new data protection law. The process begins next month  in Parliament.

The government has said that it plans to give the Data Protection Bill, announced in the Queen’s speech in June, an airing in Parliament at some point next month. This has been confirmed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (which continues to be officially abbreviated as DCMS, despite the recent addition of ‘Digital’).

The new Bill will replace the existing Data Protection Act 1998 and one of its chief aims is to implement the EU-wide General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  The UK must adhere to GDPR during its time as a member state and almost certainly beyond – albeit under different legal provisions. The manner in which this EU initiative could apply in the UK after a finalised Brexit is discussed in the next story.

This first reading of the Bill next month is largely a formality. It gives lawmakers, consultants and interested parties a chance to inform themselves and gather the information they need before a second reading takes place, during which a parliamentary debate is properly staged.

Last month, Germany became the first EU member state to approve its data protection legislation meeting the requirements of GDPR – the German Federal Data Protection Act (‘Bundesdatenschutzgesetz‘).

House of Lords publishes a report on the EU data protection package

Responding to the government’s plans outlined in a White Paper on The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union, the House of Lords has reviewed various options regarding the data protection policy aspect of this new relationship in a report published on 18th July.

Since the government has stated that it wants to “maintain unhindered and uninterrupted data flows with the EU post-Brexit,” the House of Lords has assessed this commitment with a view to providing a more detailed set of practical objectives.

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For the UK to continue trading with EU citizens post-Brexit, GDPR or its equivalent will  need to apply.

The report summarises that the UK has two feasible options if it wants to continue uninterrupted data flow with the EU, which is now a lynchpin in our service-driven economy. There will be a transitional period of adopting the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Police and Criminal Justice Directive (PCJ) while the UK remains an EU Member State, regulations which the government plans to implement with the aforementioned new Data Protection Bill. But the report states that after Brexit, the UK will either have to pursue an ‘adequacy decision’ from the European Commission, “certifying that [the UK] provides a standard of protection which is ‘essentially equivalent’ to EU data protection standards,” or else individual data controllers will have to implement their own data protection safeguards, which would “include tools such as Standard Contractual Clauses, and Binding Corporate Rules.”

The report favours the former, that is, adequacy decisions conferred to the UK as a third state in its relation to the EU, provided under Articles 45 and 36 of the GDPR and PCJ respectively. The report states that the Lords were “persuaded by the Information Commissioner’s view that the UK is so heavily integrated with the EU – three quarters of the UK’s cross-border data flows are with EU countries – that it would be difficult for the UK to get by without an adequacy arrangement.”

The report concludes that there is no prospect of a clean break, since the UK will have to continue to update its domestic data protection policies to remain aligned to the standards of EU data protection in the event of changing regulations – that is, if the UK wants the seamless transfer of data with EU countries that is regarded as crucial to the digital economy and the UK’s competitive position in the modern globalised market.

Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) levies £150,000 of fines for nuisance calls

The ICO has issued official warnings, “reminding companies making direct marketing calls that people registered with the Telephone Preference Service are ‘off-limits,’” after two Bradford-based firms were fined a total of £150,000 for flouting this preference.

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Calling consumers without consent is illegal unless you run the files against TPS.

HPAS Ltd (t/a Safestyle UK) and Laura Anderson Ltd (t/a Virgo Home Improvements) have been fined £70,000 and £80,000 respectively for making illegal nuisance calls to people on the TPS register. Both firms have been issued enforcement notices and will face court action if the practice continues.

The ICO received 264 complaints about Virgo over 20 months (despite repeated warnings and formal monitoring), and 440 complaints about the latter in 19 months.  Virgo Home Improvements had already been fined £33,000 just over a year ago, bringing their total fines for making nuisance calls up to £113,000.

One complaint about Safestyle quoted by the ICO read, “this harassment has been going on for over five years now. I want it to stop.” Members of the public are becoming increasingly aware of data protection policy, and the prospect of new legislation that will crack down on aggravating breaches such as these will be welcomed by many.

Written by Harry Smithson, 8th August 2017

http://www.datacompliant.co.uk

Data Protection Weekly Round-up: PECR breaches, ransomware research and Facebook on security

Two large corporations fined for PECR breaches; Google study reveals ransomware profits, and Facebook urges people-led changes to security methodology

In the blog below, you’ll note how the Information Commissioner’s Office is taking a hard-line approach to PECR.  If an organisation uses electronic channels to re-permission its database in time for GDPR enforcement in May 2018, it must comply with PECR. Moneysupermarket.com is the latest in a series of big names to fall foul of email regulations.

You’ll also see an analysis of ransomware profitability, which helps explain its continued growth;   the final story summarises Facebook’s views on data security.

The ICO issues fines amounting to £160,000 for Provident Personal Credit and Moneysupermarket.com

The Information Commissioner’s Office has issued civil monetary penalties of £80,000 each for Provident Personal Credit, a Bradford-based sub-prime lender, and Moneysupermarket.com, a leading brand comparison site, on the 17th and 20th of July respectively. In both cases the fine was  for breaching the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation (PECR).

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Unsolicited texts annoy prospects and customers

Quick-loan credit firm Provident Personal Credit, a brand operated by Provident Financial, was fined £80,000 for sending out nearly 1 million nuisance text messages in the space of 6 months.

The company employed a third party affiliate to send the unsolicited marketing for loans provided by a sister brand, Satsuma Loans.

Text messages may not be sent if the recipients have not consented to receiving marketing texts, so this activity was in breach of PECR.

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Beware of sending “service” emails which are actually “marketing” emails

A few days later, the price and brand comparison website Moneysupermarket.com was fined for sending 7.1 million emails over 10 days updating customers with its Terms and Conditions, despite these customers having explicitly opted-out of receiving this type of email. This offence is almost identical to the breaches for which Morrison’s, Honda and Flybe were fined last month.

One of the key problems was the section “Preference Centre Update” which said: “We hold an e-mail address for you which means we could be sending you personalised news, products and promotions. You’ve told us in the past you prefer not to receive these. If you’d like to reconsider, simply click the following link to start receiving our e-mails.”

In a previous blog, we explained the ambiguity between ‘service’ emails and ‘marketing’ emails when implicitly emailing or communicating marketing content to individuals who have opted out. This is in breach of regulations (which will only get stricter after the General Data Protection Legislation comes into force in May 2018).

Google research leads to fears of proliferating ransomware

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Ransomware encrypts and scrambles victims’ computerised files. The files will not be decrypted until after a ransom is paid

Research carried out by Elie Bursztein, Kylie McRoberts and Luca Invernizzi from Google has found that cyber-thieves have made $25m (£19m) in the last two years through the use of ransomware. The research suggests that this type of malware regularly makes more than $1m (£761,500) for its creators.

The two strains of ransomware that have seen the most success are ‘Locky’ and ‘Cerber,’ which have collected $7.8m (£5.9m) and $6.9m (£5.2) respectively. But fears have arisen that due to the profitability of ransomware, new and more expansive variants will emerge amid the increasingly competitive, aggressive and “fast-moving” market for cybercrime weaponry. Mr Burszstein warns that ‘SamSam’ and ‘Spora’ are variants that seem to be gaining traction.

The research collected reports from victims of ransomware but also from an experiment wherein thousands of ‘synthetic’ virtual victims were created online. Mr Bursztein and his colleagues then monitored the network traffic generated by these fake victims to study the movement of money. More than 95% of Bitcoin payments (the preferred currency for ransom payments) were cashed out via Russia’s BTC-e exchange.

The lucrative nature of ransomware has led the Google researchers to conclude that it is “here to stay” and may well proliferate among the many syndicates and crime networks around the world. At a talk at the Black Hat conference, one of the world’s largest information security events, Mr Bursztein warned, “it’s no longer a game reserved for tech-savvy criminals, it’s for almost anyone.”

Facebook’s security boss argues that the industry should change its approach

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Hitting the data security balance: user issues vs. tech solutions

At a talk at this year’s Black Hat, Facebook’s Chief Information Security Officer, Alex Stamos, has criticised the information security industry’s over-prioritisation of technology over people.

Advocating a ‘people-centric’ approach to information security, Mr Stamos stated his belief that most security professionals were too focused on complex ‘stunt’ hacks involving large corporations and state organisations, and tended to ignore problems that the majority of technology users face.

He told the attendees, “we have perfected the art of finding problems without fixing real-world issues. We focus too much on complexity, not harm.”

He explained that most Facebook users are not being targeted by spies or nation states, and that their loss of control over their information are from simple causes with simple solutions in which, he claims, the security industry takes no interest. He criticised the industry in general for lacking ‘empathy’ with less tech-savvy people, citing the often-expressed thought by security professionals that there would be fewer breaches and data losses if people were perfect.

He used the example of the widespread criticism from cyber experts that the security team for Facebook subsidiary Whatsapp faced after their decision to use ‘end-to-end’ encryption for the popular messaging app, which was heralded by some as sacrificing security for the sake of usability. Such a sacrifice did not manifest, but Mr Stamos was keen to emphasise the fact that it simply did not occur to security experts that usability was worth pursuing.

Mr Stamos advocated the diversification of the industry by working with less technically minded people who could empathise with the imperfections of tech-users, thus helping to develop more straightforward tools and services that would benefit a larger amount of people.

Facebook has also committed half a million dollars to fund a new project to secure election campaigns from cyber attack.  The initiative will be run by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, a think-tank affiliated to Harvard University.  This is timely, given the scandals around the cyber- attack on French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent election campaign, and the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee during the US elections last year.

If you have any data privacy compliance, governance or security concerns which you’d like to discuss with Data Compliant, please email dc@datacompliant.co.uk.

Harry Smithson   20th July 2017

ICO updates Subject Access Requests (SARs) advice for data controllers following Court of Appeal decisions

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has updated its ‘Code of Practice on Subject Access Requests’ chiefly in response to several Court of Appeal decisions made earlier this year related to SARs. Under the Data Protection Act 1998, individuals (‘data subjects’) may request access to their personal information held by a ‘data controller.’

These requests for information are called SARs, and can range from the request for specific or limited information to the request for the entirety of held information including why it is held and to whom it may have been disclosed. The scope of a data controller’s obligations, therefore, will vary from case to case, and will be particularly burdensome for large organisations. Currently, data controllers may charge a fee of up to £10 for processing a SAR, and must provide the requester the relevant information within 40 calendar days. When the GDPR comes into force next year, data controllers will normally not be entitled to charge a fee, irrespective of the inconvenience, and will be expected to provide the information within a shorter timeframe of 30 calendar days.

However, the ICO has revised its guidance in dealing with SARs to prepare controllers for data compliance in light of the Court of Appeal’s judgements on a string of cases in which SARs took place alongside ongoing or threatened litigation – cases which in the opinion of numerous legal commentators, therefore, highlight the potential for widespread abuse of SARs to redress grievances outside the purview of data protection law.

The three key changes to the ICO’s Code

  1. Scope for assessing ‘disproportionate effort’

The DPA includes an exemption from having to respond to SARs if this would involve ‘disproportionate effort’ for the data controller. Whereas the Code previously indicated that a refusal to provide information on the grounds of it being difficult is unacceptable, it now, with greater lenience, states: “there is scope for assessing whether, in the circumstances of a particular case, supplying a copy of the requested information in permanent form would result in so much work or expense as to outweigh the requester’s right of access to their personal data.” The ICO expects controllers to evaluate the benefits to the data subject as a result of the SAR against the difficulties in complying with the request, and assess whether the scope of the request is reasonable.

  1. Dialogue between controller and requester

The ICO now advises controllers to enter into dialogue with data subjects following a SAR. This may allow the requester to specify which information they require, thereby refining the request, and making the process more manageable and less likely to result in disproportionate effort. The Code continues to explain how it will take into account both controller’s and subject’s willingness to participate in this dialogue if they receive a complaint about the handling of a SAR.

  1. Information management systems and redaction of third-party data

 The ICO now expects controllers to have information management systems wherein personal information, including archived or back-up data, can be found expediently in anticipation of a SAR. Moreover, the information management system should allow for the redaction of third-party data. This is important, since certain SARs may be declined if the information requested would result some way in the disclosure of personal information about another living person.

Subject Access Requests: For more information have a look at the 4 Court of Appeal decisions that informed the ICO’s revised guidance:  Dawson-Damer v Taylor Wessing LLP, Ittihadieh v 5-11 Cheyne Gardens, Deer v Oxford University, Holyoake v Candy

Harry Smithson 7th July 2017

Weekly Roundup: Global Cyber-Attack, Google Scan Emails, Political Party Under Investigation, Nuisance Calls Fine

Malware outbreak in 64 countries, Google scrap email scans, and the Conservative Party face ‘serious allegations’

Global cyber-attack disrupts companies in 64 countries

Corrupted Ukrainian accountancy software ‘MEDoc’ is suspected to be the medium of a cyberattack on companies ranging from British ad agency WPP to Tasmanian Cadbury’s factory, with many European and American firms reporting disruption to services. Banks in Ukraine, Russian oil giant Rosneft, shipping giant Maersk, a Rotterdam port operator, Dutch global parcel service TNT and US law firm DLA Piper were among those suffering inabilities to process orders or else general computer shutdowns.

Heralded as “a recent dangerous trend” by Microsoft, this attack comes just 6 weeks after the WannaCry attack primarily affecting NHS hospitals. Both attacks appear to make use of a Windows vulnerability called ‘Eternal Blue,’ thought to have been discovered by the NSA and leaked online – although the NSA has not confirmed this. The NSA’s possible use of this vulnerability, which has served to create a model for cyber-attacks for political and criminal hackers, has been described by security experts as “a nightmare scenario.”

A BBC report suggests that given 80% of all instances of this malware were in Ukraine, and that the provided email address for the ‘ransom’ closed down quickly, the attack could be politically motivated at Ukraine or those who do business in Ukraine. Recent announcements suggest it could be related to data not money.

The malware appears to have been channelled through the automatic update system, according to security experts including the malware expert credited with ending the WannaCry attack, Marcus Hutchins. The MEDoc software would have originally begun this process legitimately, but at some point the update system released the malware into numerous companies’ computer systems.

 

Google to stop scanning Gmail accounts for personalised marketing data

In a blog published at the end of last week, the tech firm Google have confirmed that they will stop scanning Gmail users’ emails for the sake of accruing data to be used in personalised adverts, by the end of the year. This will put the consumer version of Gmail in line with the business edition.

Google had advertised their Gmail service by offering 1GB of ‘free’ webmail storage. However, it transpired that Google was paying for this offer by running these scans.

This recent change in tactic has been met with ‘qualified’ welcome by privacy campaigners. Executive director Dr Gus Hosein of Privacy International, the British charity who have been campaigning for regulators to intervene since they discovered the scans, stated:

When they first came up with the dangerous idea of monetising the content of our communications, Privacy International warned Google against setting the precedent of breaking the confidentiality of messages for the sake of additional income. […] Of course they can now take this decision after they have consolidated their position in the marketplace as the aggregator of nearly all the data on internet usage, aside from the other giant, Facebook.

Google faced a fairly substantial backlash on account of these scans when they were discovered, notably from Microsoft, with their series of critical ‘Gmail man’ adverts, depicting a man searching through people’s messages.

However, digital rights watchdog Big Brother Watch celebrated Google’s move, describing it as “absolutely a step in the right direction, let’s hope it encourages others to follow suit.”

UK Conservative Party under investigation for breaching data protection and election law

A Channel 4 News undercover investigation has provoked ‘serious allegations’ of data protection and election offences against the Conservative Party.

The investigation uncovered the party’s use of a market research firm based in Neath, South Wales, to make thousands of cold calls to voters in marginal seats ahead of the election this month. Call centre staff followed a ‘market research’ script, but under scrutiny this script appears to canvass for specific local Conservative candidates – in a severe breach of election law.

Despite the information commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s written warnings to all major parties before the election began, reminding them of data protection law and the illegality of such telecommunications, the Conservatives operated a fake market research company. This constitutes a breach separate to election law, and mandates the Information Commissioner’s Office to investigate.

The ICO’s statement on 23rd June reads,

The investigation has uncovered what appear to be underhand and potentially unlawful practices at the centre, in calls made on behalf of the Conservative Party. These allegations include:

  • Paid canvassing on behalf of Conservative election candidates – banned under election law.
  • Political cold calling to prohibited numbers
  • Misleading calls claiming to be from an ‘independent market research company’ which does not apparently exist

MyHome Installations Ltd fined £50,000 for nuisance calls

Facing somewhat less public scrutiny and condemnation than the Conservative Party, Maidstone domestic security firm MyHome Installations has been issued a £50,000 fine by the ICO for making nuisance calls.

The people who received these calls had explicitly opted out of telephone marketing by registering their numbers with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), the “UK’s official opt-out of telephone marketing.”

The ICO received 169 complaints from members of the public who’d received unwanted calls about electrical surveys and home security from MyHome Installations Ltd.

Harry Smithson 28 June 2017