Tag Archives: data protection

Data Compliant GDPR panic

GDPR – panic … or not?

myth or fact

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

Rights human rights

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

shame

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

Queen

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.

EU

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.

fined 150000
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).

Text confused person

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.

emails out of laptop

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

ransomware 2

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

facebook

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

GDPR – ICO Puts Trust at the Heart of Data Processing

Trust & data

Information Commissioner’s Annual Report

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) published its annual report on the 13th July. It is the first time the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has compiled an annual report, having taken up the post a year ago.

The report highlights the increased powers and expanding caseload and capacities  of the regulator. At a time of increasing concern about the use (and abuse) of personal information, the ICO is seeing a great deal more work.  This is, in part, reflected by an increase in staff numbers of around 8% year on year.

GDPR and Public Trust

The ICO’s foreword emphasises its commitment to regaining public trust in data controllers and processors. It is hoped that changing laws provide the regulator with an opportunity to enable individuals to trust in large organisations handling personal information. The Commissioner  states that “trust” will be “at the heart of what the Information Commissioner’s Office will do in the next four years.” Confidence in the digital economy is a consideration that the regulator acknowledges and aims to encourage, especially since the digital sector is growing 30% faster than any other part of the economy.

This echoes the government’s concerns regarding the digital economy and its relation to data protection principles that were enumerated in the Queen’s Speech and addressed by several measures including a Data Protection Bill, which is designed to implement the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In a year characterised by the impending replacement of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) with the GDPR in May 2018, the report’s outline of major work undertaken leads with a nod to the many public, private and third sector organisations that will be preparing for the new legislative framework.

Consent

‘Consent,’ which has become one of the watchwords for the GDPR (and a word that will be increasingly found on the bulletin boards and coffee mugs of marketing departments) will take on a stricter legal definition soon – a marketing monolith for which the ICO anticipates organisations will seek detailed guidance.

Data Breaches

But the GDPR by no means eclipsed the ICO’s other responsibilities. Nuisance calls, unsolicited marketing and data sharing have routinely seen organisations facing fines and other civil measures. Breaches of the DPA and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR) such as these by a number of charities, of which the Daily Mail reported allegations in 2015, have led the ICO to issue 13 civil monetary penalties to the value of £181,000.

Indeed, some companies, Honda (whom we reported about last month) being an explicit example, have been issued fines for unsolicited marketing in breach of the DPA due to emails which asked for clarification regarding customers’ marketing preferences – which Honda for example maintained were a means of preparing for the GDPR. So while preparation for the GDPR is something to which the ICO has committed a great deal of resources, they have by no means neglected upholding the current law. The ICO has consistently made clear that it is not acceptable to break the law in preparation for another.

Monetary penalties

Overall, the ICO issued more civil monetary penalties for breaches of PECR than ever before (23), to the value of £1,923,000. It has also issued 16 fines for serious breaches of data protection principles totalling £1,624,500. It cannot be stated enough that after May 2018, these figures could skyrocket if organisations do not find ways of being compliant with the new, more expansive and rigorous legislation. Criminal prosecutions have seen a 267% increase, and the ICO has received 18,300 concerns regarding data protection brought to them – 2,000 more than last year.

Subject Access Requests (SARs)

Data controllers or organisations handling a wide range of personal data may have increasing requests for Subject Access Requests (SARs). The report states that 42% of all concerns brought to the ICO where the nature was specified were related to subject access. While these requests for data are provided under the DPA (and will be upheld with more rigour as one the data subject ‘rights’ by the GDPR) and not the freedom of information legislation, it nonetheless falls upon organisations of whatever size to be co-operative and compliant when the disclosure of information is required. It is important for organisations to train their staff to be able to recognise a SAR and act promptly.  Data controllers must recognise the importance of compliance not only with the law but with ICO audits and investigations, as well as of the necessity for efficient and conscientious data handling.

For information about how DC can help you meet the requirements of GDPR,  please email dc@datacompliant.co.uk.

Harry Smithson, July 25th 2017

GDPR and Data Privacy Impact Assessments (DPIAs)

DPIA blog image

When are they needed?  How are they done?

Next year under the new GDPR data protection legislation, Privacy Impact Assessments will become known as Data Privacy Impact Assessments, and will be mandatory instead of merely recommended.

The ICO currently describes PIAs as “a tool which can help organisations identify the most effective way to comply with their data protection obligations and meet individuals’ expectations of privacy.”

While the soon-to-be-rechristened DPIAs will be legally required, data controllers should continue to fully embrace these opportunities to ensure that heavy fines, brand reputational damage and the associated risks of data breaches can be averted from an early stage in any planned operation.

When will a DPIA be legally required?

Organisations will be required to carry out a DPIA when data processing is “likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of individuals.” This can be during an existing or before a planned project involving data processing that comes with a risk to the rights of individuals as provided by the Data Protection Act. They can also range in scope, depending on the organisation and the scale of its project.

DPIAs will therefore be required when an organisation is planning an operation that could affect anyone’s right to privacy: broadly speaking, anyone’s right ‘to be left alone.’ DPIAs are primarily designed to allow organisations to avoid breaching an individual’s freedom to “control, edit, manage or delete information about themselves and to decide how and to what extent such information is communicated to others.” If there is a risk of any such breach, a DPIA must be followed through.

Listed below are examples of projects, varying in scale, in which the current PIA is advised – and it is safe to assume all of these examples will necessitate a DPIA after the GDPR comes into force:

  • A new IT system for storing and accessing personal data.
  • A new use of technology such as an app.
  • A data sharing initiative where two or more organisations (even if they are part of the same group company) seek to pool or link sets of personal data.
  • A proposal to identify people in a particular group or demographic and initiate a course of action.
  • Processing quantities of sensitive personal data
  • Using existing data for a new and unexpected or more intrusive purpose.
  • A new surveillance system (especially one which monitors members of the public) or the application of new technology to an existing system (for example adding Automatic number plate recognition capabilities to existing CCTV).
  • A new database which consolidates information held by separate parts of an organisation.
  • Legislation, policy or strategies which will impact on privacy through the collection of use of information, or through surveillance or other monitoring

How is a DPIA carried out?

There are 7 main steps that comprise a DPIA:

  1. Identify the need for a DPIA

This will mainly involve answering ‘screening questions,’ at an early stage in a project’s development, to identify the potential impacts on individuals’ privacy. The project management should begin to think about how they can address these issues, while consulting with stakeholders.

  1. Describe the information flows

Explain how information will be obtained, used and retained. This part of the process can identify the potential for – and help to avoid – ‘function creep’: when data ends up being processed or used unintentionally, or unforeseeably.

  1. Identify the privacy and related risks

Compile a record of the risks to individuals in terms of possibly intrusions of data privacy as well as corporate risks or risks to the organisation in terms of regulatory action, reputational damage and loss of public trust. This involves a compliance check with the Data Protection Act and the GDPR.

  1. Identify and evaluate the privacy solutions

With the record of risks ready, devise a number of solutions to eliminate or minimise these risks, and evaluate the costs and benefits of each approach. Consider the overall impact of each privacy solution.

  1. Sign off and record the DPIA outcomes

Obtain appropriate sign-offs and acknowledgements throughout the organisation. A report based on the findings and conclusions of the prior steps of the DPIA should be published and accessible for consultation throughout the project.

  1. Integrate the outcomes into the project plan

Ensure that the DPIA is implemented into the overall project plan. The DPIA should be utilised as an integral component throughout the development and execution of the project.

  1. Consult with internal and external stakeholders as needed throughout the process

This is not a ‘step’ as such, but an ongoing commitment to stakeholders to be transparent about the process of carrying out the DPIA, and being open to consultation and the expertise and knowledge of the organisation’s various stakeholders – from colleagues to customers. The ICO explains, “data protection risks are more likely to remain unmitigated on projects which have not involved discussions with the people building a system or carrying out procedures.”

DPIAs – what are the benefits?

There are benefits to DPIAs for organisations who conduct them.  Certainly there are cost benefits to be gained from knowing the risks before starting work:

  • cost benefits from adopting a Privacy by Design approach:  knowing the risks before starting work allows issues to be fixed early, resulting in reduced development costs and delays to the schedule
  • risk mitigation in relation to fines and loss of sales caused by lack of customer and/or shareholder confidence
  • reputational benefits and trust building from being seen to consider and embed privacy issues into a programme’s design from the outset

For more information about DPIAs and how Data Compliant can help, please email dc@datacompliant.co.uk.

Harry Smithson   20th 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

GDPR Re-Permissioning needs careful planning

Morrisons becomes the latest high-profile company fined for breaking Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)

The ICO, the independent authority responsible for investigating breaches of data protection law, has fined the fourth largest supermarket chain in the UK £10,500 for sending 130,671 of their customers’ unsolicited marketing emails.

These customers had explicitly opted-out of receiving marketing emails related to their Morrisons ‘More’ loyalty card when they signed up to the scheme. In October and November 2016, Morrisons used the email addresses associated with these loyalty cards to promote various deals. This is in contravention of laws defining the misuse of personal information, which stipulate that individuals must give consent to receive personal ‘direct’ marketing via email.

‘Service emails’ versus ‘Marketing emails’

While the emails’ subject heading was ‘Your Account Details,’ the customers were told that by changing the marketing preferences on their loyalty card account, they could receive money off coupons, extra More Points and the company’s latest news.

The subject heading might suggest to the recipient that they are ‘service emails,’ which are defined under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) as any email an organisation has a legal obligation to send, or an email without which an individual would be disadvantaged (for instance, a reminder for a booked train departure). But there is a fine line between a service email and a marketing email: if an email contains any brand promotion or advertising content whatsoever, it is deemed the latter under the DPA. Emails that ask for clarification on marketing preferences are still marketing emails and a misuse of personal contact data.

Morrisons explained to the ICO that the recipients of these emails had opted-in to marketing related to online groceries, but opted-out of marketing related to their loyalty cards, so emails had been sent for the ostensible purpose of qualifying marketing preferences which also included promotional content. Morrisons could not provide evidence that these customers had consented to receiving this type of email, however, and they were duly fined – although in cases such as this it is often the losses from reputational damage that businesses fear more.

Fines and reputational damage

This comes just three months after the ICO confirmed fines – for almost identical breaches of PECR – of £13,000 and £70,000 for Honda and Exeter-based airline Flybe respectively. Whereas Honda could not prove that 289,790 customers had given consent to direct e-marketing, Flybe disregarded 3.3 million addressees’ explicit wishes to not receive marketing emails.

Even a fine of £70,000 – which can currently be subject to a 20% early payment discount – for sending out emails to existing customers with some roundabout content in them for the sake of promotion, will seem charitable when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) updates the PECR and DPA in 2018. Under the new regulations, misuse of data including illegal marketing risks a fine of up to €20 million or 4% of annual global turnover.

The ICO has acknowledged Honda’s belief that their emails were a means of helping their firm remain compliant with data protection law, and that the authority “recognises that companies will be reviewing how they obtain customer consent for marketing to comply with stronger data protection legislation coming into force in May 2018.”

These three cases are forewarnings of the imminent rise in stakes for not marketing in compliance with data protection law. The GDPR, an EU regulation that will demand British businesses’ compliance irrespective of Brexit, not only massively increases the monetary penalty for non-compliance, but also demands greater accountability to individuals with regard to the use and storage of their personal data.

The regulators recent actions show that companies will not be able cut legal corners under the assumption of ambiguity between general service and implicit promotional emails. And with the GDPR coming into force next year, adherence to data protection regulations is something marketing departments will need to find the time and resources to prepare for.

Harry Smithson, 22/06/17