A New Inquiry Wants to Work Out How UK Voters are Targeted on Social Media

By Tom Pritchard on at

Elizabeth Denham, The Information Commissioner, has launched a new investigation into how the UK's political parties are targeting voters through social media. The inquiry comes with a warning that sending political messages to people based on their individual data could be against the law.

Denham said:

“Given the big data revolution, it is understandable that political campaigns are exploring the potential of advanced data analysis tools to help win votes,” she said. “The public have the right to expect that this takes place in accordance with the law as it relates to data protection and electronic marketing.”

The Information Commissioner's Office met with representatives of political parties last week, reminding them that the law is the law when it comes to data collection - even if it comes from Facebook and Twitter feeds. The assumption is that voters are willing to accept very broad targeting, but not when parties are gathering up detailed information that will be used to target individuals.

It also sent reminders out to all parties that just because data is collected from social media doesn't mean they aren't then obligated to adhere to the Data Protection Act. That means they have to tell people what their data is being used for, especially if it's being used and combined with other data as part of the analytics process. Political parties can't choose not to say anything, nor can they use the potential complexity of the topic as an excuse for keeping the public in the dark.

Given the sort amount of time parties have had to prepare for the election, you can bet some of them would just love to exploit big data to target swing voters. Thankfully that isn't going to be the case. [The Guardian]

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