UK data giants ‘off the hook’ over Cambridge Analytica

ico raid1The UK data industry appears to have been told to “keep calm and carry on” despite repeated claims of wrongdoing over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, with a two year investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office finding no evidence of unlawful activity by major players including Experian, Equifax, TransUnion (formerly Callcredit), Acxiom, and Data8.

Late in August, the ICO said that it would not be producing a final report on the use of data analytics for political purposes even though it had pledged to do so at the height of the storm, triggering claims it has been brushed under the carpet.

However, when contacted by Decision Marketing, the regulator insisted that the investigation into the data giants had yet to be completed.

But in a blogpost on the ICO website, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “We have now completed our main remaining lines of enquiry as far as the available evidence took us. This included analysis of materials obtained during the investigation and those seized under warrant. The investigation is therefore concluding.”

The ICO first launched its investigation into the use of data analytics in political advertising in May 2017, following claims that Cambridge Analytica and SCL had influenced the Brexit vote.

The inquiry was ramped up in March 2018 when further claims were made that Cambridge Analytica had employed clandestine methods to harvest the data of 50 million Facebook users to influence voters.

At the height of the scandal, Denham famously said “data crimes are real crimes”. In the end, however, all of the ICO’s investigations, the night-time raids on business premises, the conspiracy theories and the media hype came to very little.

Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections went into liquidation and were not prosecuted; Facebook paid a £500,000 penalty but was not forced to admit liability.

Meanwhile, Bounty UK was slapped with a £400,000 fine for illegally sharing personal information, Emma’s Diary was hit for £140,000 for a serious breach of the first principle of the Data Protection Act 1998 and, finally, Leave EU and Eldon Insurance (now Somerset Bridge) were fined a total of £120,000 – which is still under appeal at the Upper Tier Tribunal.

However, Denham insisted: “Our investigation has concluded but our work in this area does not end here. We will shortly be publishing a report of our audits of the main political parties. Our work with the main credit reference agencies and major data brokers continues, as does our work with the university sector [note ‘work’, not investigations]. We will be updating our guidance on political campaigning later this year.

“Society benefits from political parties that want to keep in touch with people, through more informed voting decisions, better engagement with hard-to-reach groups, better awareness of disinformation, and the potential for increased engagement in democratic processes. We’re committed to supporting innovation in campaigning, while ensuring that people’s information is used fairly, transparently and securely.”

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