Thursday, 25 May 2017

ICO to Look at Data Analytics in Politics

Big data is everywhere. If you do anything online, whether with a mobile phone or laptop computer, there are entities out there in the digital universe collecting data about you and analysing it for marketing purposes. There are also political entities making use of that data, according to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).  The ICO has therefore announced the start of a formal investigation with the intent to learn just how data analytics are used for political purposes.

An informal investigation was originally announced by the ICO earlier this year. According to Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, her office believes that what they have learned since March warrants a formal investigation now. Denham acknowledges that data analytics have a significant impact on individual privacy and, as such, people have a right to know how data is being used to influence votes.

"Having considered the evidence we have already gathered, I have decided to open a formal investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes," Denham wrote in an official release. "This will involve deepening our current activity to explore practices deployed during the UK's EU Referendum campaign but potentially also in other campaigns."

The commissioner has indicated that her investigation will be ongoing even in the midst of campaigning for the snap General Election coming up. She also maintains that her decision to launch a formal investigation has nothing to do with that election or it possible outcome.


What It All Means

Without coming out and saying so directly, the Government has taken the position that politics has become more orientated toward marketing in the digital age. Indeed, that is the entire point of big data anyway. Analysts gather as much data on individuals as they possibly can and then find ways to decipher and apply that data in order to be more effective in their outreach.

While big data is alive and well in all sorts of fields, it has only been perfected – at least as much as is possible right now – within the marketing environment. Therefore, it stands to reason that the ICO will be looking at data analytics from that standpoint. They want to know if politicians are marketing their messages to voters based on what they learn from data analytics.

Finding out they do would not be much of a surprise. Politics has always been about messaging. What may be a surprise is the extent to which data analytics is being used. If it is determined that individuals or political campaigns are misusing data in order to target their messaging, there could be some significant consequences in the future.

At any rate, Denham also took the occasion of her official release to remind all political parties that their current activities in relation to the upcoming election must adhere to all applicable laws. The ICO offers updated guidance on political campaigning that parties can avail themselves of. As an individual, you are also welcome to download that guidance from the ICO website.  Simply follow the below link to the original source of this blog.

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