(Adds details, background)
LONDON May 17 Britain said it was investigating
how politicians and campaigners use data to target voters with
online advertising to make sure they comply with electoral laws
and do not abuse people's privacy.
The inquiry coincides with campaigning for a national
election next month although the senior official in charge of
the review said the timing was unrelated.
Advertising on platforms such as Facebook to
relatively small numbers of voters - selected according to their
opinions, attitudes and interests - played a decisive role in
last year's EU referendum in Britain and the U.S. presidential
election, according to the companies involved.
Britain's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which is
responsible for regulating how companies use data, said it was
understandable that political campaigns were exploring the
potential of advanced data analysis to help win votes, but they
had to comply with strict laws.
"This is a complex and rapidly evolving area of activity and
the level of awareness among the public about how data analytics
works, and how their personal data is collected, shared and used
through such tools, is low," Information Commissioner Elizabeth
The investigation will look into the use of targeted online
advertising in the run-up to Britain's EU referendum last year,
and potentially in other campaigns, said the ICO, which can
issue fines of up to 500,000 pounds and instigate criminal
Denham said it was clear that data analytical tools had a
significant potential impact on individuals' privacy.
"It is important that there is greater and genuine
transparency about the use of such techniques to ensure that
people have control over their own data and the law is upheld,"
Denham said she was aware that the investigation came amid a
general campaign, but this was not the trigger for the probe.
"I would nonetheless remind all relevant organisations of
the need to comply with the law," she said.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Michael Holden and Toby