UK political parties are attempting to profile millions of voters based on a range of factors, including income, religion and political views, according to a report published this week.
Published by Open Rights Group (ORG), the ‘Who do they think you are?’ report draws on a campaign from the 2019 General Election where members of the public were asked to send Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs) to UK political parties including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.
The publication of the report has prompted claims that parties are stereotyping voters based on racial or religions grounds. Many individuals who received their personal files said they were shocked at attempts to profile them.
One person said their profile was “inaccurate on some important details” which may affect credit in the future, while another said they were disappointed to learn they were stereotyped based on characteristics such as gender, race and ‘circumstances’.
According to the report, the three main political parties were found to be creating profiles of UK voters “en masse”, with nearly every voter on the electoral roll assigned a profile. This often includes insights into their education, life status, estimated income and newspaper readership.
Labour, in particular, assigns computed concern scores to voters and ranks them within a specific electoral ward. These scores are based on variables such as childcare, housing and austerity.
The Conservatives assign scores for ‘mysticism’ in an attempt to estimate an individual’s religion, while the Liberal Democrats guess an individual’s age based on their personal name.
ORG warned that these profiles may be used to inform party political strategies and to influence voters. Additionally, the privacy rights group insisted that this profiling is often “wholly inaccurate, meaning voters could be excluded from communications with parties that they may support”.
Concerningly, nearly 60% of individuals who received their DSAR results noted they were mostly – or wholly – inaccurate. Only 3% of the study’s participants agreed their profiles were completely accurate.
- Government digital strategy to increase support for ‘grassroots’ tech ecosystems
- New Money Dashboard app to bolster customer financial safety nets
- Old normal, new normal or never be normal? Is there a silver lining?
Pascal Crowe, data and democracy project officer for the ORG, said that political parties must consider reforms to the way personal data is used.
“Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives should practice what they preach when it comes to voters’ personal data, particularly when so much of the profiling is inaccurate. Equally, the law needs to be clarified for the benefit of all,” he said.
“UK political parties should review and reform the way they use personal data, in conversation with civil society, academia and the private sector,” Crowe added.