Personal information gathered from price comparison Web sites might have been used without people’s knowledge or consent by pro-Brexit campaigners in the European referendum.
An ex-director of Cambridge Analytica told parliament last week that she believed the Leave.EU campaign, headed by then-UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader and European Parliament lawmaker Nigel Farage and bankrolled by Arron Banks, might have breached data protection laws by using people’s private information without consent.
She said she had seen with her “own eyes” how Leave.EU had apparently targeted customers of Eldon Insurance — owned by Banks — using their private data to promote anti-Europe messaging.
Banks, Leave.EU and Eldon have vehemently denied having shared any such data, either with each other or with Cambridge Analytica.
However, a “subject access request” submitted to Eldon has revealed that it holds data not just on its own customers, but also on people who have submitted a query to a price comparison Web site (PCW), which involves them agreeing to the site’s privacy terms.
A subject access request is a legal mechanism for individuals to obtain information from companies about what personal information the company holds about them, why it is held and how it is used. Such a request has revealed that personal details from a car insurance query to the PCW Moneysupermarket were passed to Eldon and held in its database. The data included name, date of birth, address, e-mail address, details of friends and family and telephone number.
In its last annual report, Moneysupermarket said that it held data on 24.9 million people — or about half the British electorate.
Moneysupermarket did not respond to the Observer’s questions about whether, and if so to what extent, it had passed on any of its customers’ personal data to Eldon.
Potential customers who use most price comparison Web sites enter multiple pieces of sensitive personal information into an inquiry form that is then passed to partner companies.
The privacy terms of the PCWs make clear that such data sharing might occur. However, the fact that this happens raises the prospect that people who simply searched for insurance online via a PCW could have had their private information shared in a way they might not have realized.
Ravi Naik, a human rights lawyer who specializes in data rights, said it would be “an astonishing misuse” of data.
“It’s absolutely huge,” he said. “In theory, commercial operators could have access to almost every voter in the UK. People should be very concerned. This would absolutely be in breach of the second principle of data protection — that data gathered for one purpose isn’t used for another purpose.”
A former Cambridge Analytica director, Brittany Kaiser last week gave evidence to the select committee of the British Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that Banks asked Cambridge Analytica to combine data from different sources in order to profile and then target voters in the European referendum: “He asked us to design a strategy where we could work with Leave.EU, UKIP and Eldon Insurance data together.”
She also submitted documents that showed “complementary work streams” for UKIP, Leave.EU and Eldon insurance.
“We were asked whether savings could be achieved by running these three programs together, instead of separately,” she said.
Banks owns Eldon, the umbrella group for various insurance brands that includes the GoSkippy brand and underwrites Debenhams insurance. The Leave.EU campaign was based inside its headquarters in Bristol.
Leave.EU said that Kaiser’s testimony was “a confused litany of lies and allegations,” while lawyers for Banks and Eldon said such allegations were “highly defamatory,” that none were true, and that there was no evidence to support them.
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