When political market research crosses the line

Pan fydd ymchwil farchnad wleidyddol yn croesi’r llinell

By Steve Eckersley, Head of Enforcement.

When political market research crosses the lineThe ICO has concluded its investigation into a Conservative Party telephone campaign carried out in the run up to the 2017 general election.

An undercover Channel 4 News investigation raised concerns about the campaign involving calls made by Blue Telecoms, a firm in Neath, South Wales, on behalf of the Conservative Party.

These concerns prompted an ICO investigation into the campaign’s compliance with data protection and electronic marketing law.

We’ve found that two small sections of the written scripts used by those making the calls crossed the line from legitimate market research to unlawful direct marketing. We’ve warned the Conservative Party to get it right next time.

Direct marketing v market research in politics

Market research helps political parties inform their views and formulate policies. Questions about voting intentions, finding out which Prime Minister someone might prefer or generally encouraging people to go out and vote are all legitimate market research.

However, if the questions are framed in a way to gain support – either now or at some point in the future – then that crosses the line into direct marketing. We mean things like promoting the aims and ideals of a particular party, appealing for funds, or encouraging people to vote for a particular party or candidate.

The law protects people from this kind of marketing because it can be intrusive.

Direct marketing – whether it’s through emails, texts or phone calls – is regulated by the ICO under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). Other matters, for example around election law and market research, are regulated by other bodies.

What did the Conservative Party do wrong?

As part of our investigation, we studied scripts and call recordings and were satisfied that, in general, the questions reflected a valid market research campaign.

But we did have concerns about two sections which we believe fell outside the bounds of market research. These paragraphs referenced both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in relation to policy choices.

What happens now?

We’ve stopped short of formal regulatory action because the overall campaign was genuine market research. The two sections we had concerns about were not enough to trigger formal enforcement action when considered along with the campaign as a whole. In addition, the results of the survey were not saved against any individual so they could not be targeted for future marketing.

But we have been clear about what we expect in the future.

We’ve warned the party that its campaigns must be rigorously checked for questions that fall outside the bounds of market research.

And, while we did not resort to the full force of our regulatory powers in this case, we will continue to keep an eye on all political parties in the run up to future elections and repeat our advice to them that they must comply with data protection and privacy laws when campaigning.

There’s more advice about the difference between market research and direct marketing in our political campaigning guidance.

Steve EckersleySteve Eckersley leads the ICO’s Enforcement Team. Its aim is to take purposeful risk-based regulatory action where obligations are ignored, examples need to be set or issues need to be clarified, based on the ICO’s Regulatory Action Policy.

 

This entry was posted in Steve Eckersley and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to When political market research crosses the line

  1. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use - Digit Cool

  2. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use – You'll Never Be A Winner If You Quit

  3. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use – CO2 For News

  4. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use - I C E Z O N E

  5. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use — Мега НОВОСТИ

  6. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use - Global News Metro

  7. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use - News Dynamite

  8. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use | Pacific Piano Performance Posts

  9. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use | Theviralinfo

  10. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use – More UK News

  11. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use - World News Hill

  12. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use – World Class News

  13. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use – habanews

  14. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use – News Headlines Live

  15. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use – Ade Express

  16. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use - ViralGist

  17. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use - World News City

  18. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use – UK Daily Review

  19. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use - World News Empire

  20. Paul Wooldridge says:

    wow, a warning. So I guess we know which party Steve Eckersley votes for. What’s the point of rules when you have sycophants refusing to enforce them?

  21. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use | newsbuzz

  22. Pingback: Information Commissioner finds Conservative call centre breached rules during general election

  23. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use – UK News

  24. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use - NewsChannel.site

  25. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use | Namaste BitCoin

  26. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use - NewsPortal.today

  27. Tina says:

    or did you not have the political balls to fine the governing party

  28. Ari Blake says:

    This proves to me more than ever that this was a carefully planned act. 1). Out of a set of “questions” I would only ask a couple of “dodgy” ones so I could excuse it as an over-sight/unintentional mistake. 2) They didn’t need to save the data as the leading questions would have done their “job” (or not), and in fact, I would have stipulated that the data was NOT, in any circumstances, to be saved.

    It’s like the judge who gave a “nominal” suspended sentence for over 5,000 images (pictures and videos) of child sexual abuse saying that it was a momentary aberration in an otherwise exemplary life. How long do people think it takes to accumulate this amount of child porn? Definitely not “momentary”.

    If you haven’t the ability to properly challenge these very powerful people, say so, I for one can understand as they can “ruin” your life and career. But, don’t make feeble excuses.

  29. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use – نوائے آج

  30. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use | News This Morning

  31. Kevin says:

    Wow – nice to see a “strong and stable” response from a regulator. Talk about lacking the cohones to take a meaningful action.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Another gutless regulator.

  33. Michael Lenard says:

    In my opinion it was clear that the Tory party were using the survey as a backdoor into marketing these people, and tougher action should have been taken. Had the Labour party been doing this it would have been front page news in the Sun and the ICO may have taken a different approach.

  34. Anonymous says:

    In essence Steve Eckersley received a big fat cheque from Tory HQ.

  35. Pingback: Pan fydd ymchwil farchnad wleidyddol yn croesi’r llinell | ICO Blog

  36. Gary says:

    “We’ve stopped short of formal regulatory action because the overall campaign was genuine market research”.
    Small crimes appear to be free, if they are in a big enough pool of non-crimes.

  37. Pingback: ICO stops short of fining Conservative Party for breach of data protection law - NS Tech

  38. Anonymous says:

    What a whitewash. Grow a backbone because you know they will do it again. You’ve given them the green light. You are not fit for purpose.

  39. Voter says:

    It’s just not good enough. Another white wash; always the same. They did wrong; yes or no? That’s it. No such animal as a little wrong or a lttle right. Without clarification our Democracy is DEAD.

  40. Pingback: ICO stops short of fining Conservative Party for breach of data protection law | New Statesman Media

  41. Pingback: Watchdog warns Tories over Neath call centre election use | Al Jazeera English

  42. Pingback: Tory Election Call Center ‘Unlawful’ But Goes Unpunished, Whilst Disabled People Get Sanctioned For Having Heart Attacks – Enemy In A State

  43. DrJ says:

    Hah! “The law protects people from this kind of marketing because it can be intrusive.”

    Except the law Doesn’t protect people, because the guilty have been let off without punishment.

  44. Your failure to act demonstrates that you are just as corrupt as the Tories. I hope someone drags you to the High Court over this utter white-wash.

  45. Pingback: GE17: Tories crossed the line to “unlawful direct marketing”, receive warning – Stuff The Tories Do

  46. Pingback: GDPR Friday Rouundup – 27th October 2017 – The Data Guardians

  47. Thanks Steve for sharing on such interesting topic. research on politics is what I have not done so far in my market research career. Reading this I think I should opt for a political survey.

  48. Market research was started with the political meeting and now it is used in many aspects of politics.

  49. Thank you for writing on an important topic, i got the information i was looking for.

Leave a Reply