With the latest twist in the Cambridge Analytica (CA) saga, attention has turned to claims of irregularities involving a price comparison website. It is possible that data held by Moneysupermarket was shared for political purposes. And if this did indeed happen, it could affect nearly 25 million voters.
It’s alleged that Leave.EU, fronted by Nigel Farage and one of the main pro-Brexit campaigns, used customer data from an insurance firm that is listed on a price comparison website.
The allegations surfaced during testimony given at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) Committee hearings into fake news and the role of CA. Former CA business development manager Brittany Kaiser presented a series of emails. These showed discussions [pdf] between CA, Leave.EU and UKIP, as well as CA’s presentation [pdf] to Leave.EU. However, Kaiser stated [pdf] that CA’s work for Leave.EU and UKIP wasn’t reported to the Electoral Commission.
Cambridge Analytica was initially engaged with Arron Banks, Andy Wigmore and Matthew Richardson to design parallel proposals for Leave.EU, GoSkippy/Eldon Insurance and the UK Independence Party.
Eldon Insurance/GoSkippy is owned by Banks.
I was under the impression, by what they told me, that every single individual that they [Leave.EU] were pulling up to call was actually a lead or a current customer of Eldon Insurance or GoSkippy.
Potentially 25 million consumers
Kaiser commented [pdf, p2]:
In hindsight, I now think that there is reason to believe that misuse of data was rife amongst the businesses and campaigns of Arron Banks. If the personal data of UK citizens who just wanted to buy car insurance was used by GoSkippy and Eldon Insurance for political purposes, as may have been the case, people clearly did not opt in for their data to be used in this way by Leave.EU.
Moneysupermarket holds data on 24.9 million people in the UK, or nearly half the UK electorate. But there’s no suggestion it was aware that Eldon may have used this data for political purposes. A spokesman stated:
Our providers use the personal information from our customers to generate personalised quotes for the service they have asked for (such as quoting for car insurance) and are not allowed to use this information for anything else unless they have permission from the customer.
Emma Briant, an associate professor at the University of Essex, told [pdf, p14] the DCMS committee that Andy Wigmore, a director of Eldon Insurance and former director communications for Leave.EU, admitted [pdf, p5]:
They [the Eldon actuaries] are the ones that pinpointed twelve areas in the United Kingdom that we needed to send Nigel Farage to.
Eldon’s AI methods apparently were developed from what they did on the Leave.EU campaign but it is hard to imagine how they would do this without using the same data.
But there’s a bigger picture here. Namely, the sharing of customer data by online businesses that could be used for what CA describes as ‘microtargeting’.
Kaiser commented [pdf, p8]:
Governments, private companies and wealthy individuals have long had the opportunity to buy, license and collect our datasets. The past decade has seen a rampant rise of this data collection and modelling, targeting individuals to sell products, services and political ideology. I know this all too well, as a data rights campaigner and former employee of Cambridge Analytica.
Privacy has become a myth, and tracking people’s behaviour has become an essential part of using social media and the internet itself; tools that were meant to free our minds and make us more connected, with faster access to information than ever before. Instead of connecting us, these tools have divided us. It’s time to expose their abuses, so we can have an honest conversation about how we build a better way forward.
Leave.EU claimed that Kaiser’s testimony was “a confused litany of lies and allegations”. Meanwhile, lawyers for Banks and Eldon denied all the allegations and asserted that Leave.EU and Eldon had not shared data nor shared data with CA. The lawyers further claimed that the allegations were “highly defamatory”.
Leave.EU is currently under investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?