ICO Fines Emma’s Diary £140,000 Over Campaign Data

Emma’s Diary, a pregnancy advice website operated by Lifecycle Marketing (Mother and Baby) Ltd, has been fined £140,000 as part of a crackdown by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on the improper use of personal data for political purposes.

Lifecycle Marketing illegally collected information on more than one million people and sold it to Experian Marketing Services, specifically for use by the Labour Party ahead of the 2017 General Election, the ICO said.

Experian then created a database that Labour used to profile new mothers and target those living in marginal seats with direct mail.

The ICO found the site’s privacy policy did not disclose that data would be used for political marketing of given to political parties, in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Emma’s Diary provides advice to new monthers. Credit: Lifecycle Marketing

Personal data

The law requires firms to obtain consent before selling data to political parties.

The incident involved 1,065,200 records, including names, home addresses, whether the household included children up to the age of five and the birth dates of the mother and children.

Lifecycle Marketing said its action was an “isolated” mistake.

“We had never previously provided data to a political party and we will never do so again,” the company stated.

“We have always sought to fully comply with our data protection obligations, which we take extremely seriously, we are sorry that on this isolated occasion our interpretation of the (data protection act) has not been in line with the ICO’s.”

Labour said it had not bought nor used data from Emma’s Diary since the 2017 General Election and was in the process of reviewing its approach to acquiring data from third parties.

Broad inquiry

The ICO said the relationship between data brokers, political parties and campaigns was “complex”.

“Even though this company was not directly involved in political campaigning, the democratic process must be transparent,” said information commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

Her office has notified the UK’s 11 main political parties that it plans to audit their data-sharing practices later this year, and said it has outstanding enquiries with data brokers including Experian.

The ICO’s broader investigation into the political use of personal data resulted last month in a £500,000 fine on Facebook for allowing Cambridge Analytica to use personal data in the 2016 US presidential election campaign.

The data protection regulator said it was “committed” to using new audit and enforcement powers under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to ensure parties and political campaign groups comply with the law.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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