Brave uncovers widespread surveillance of UK citizens by private companies embedded on UK council websites

by Feb 4, 2020Brave Insights, Policy, Press, Research

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A new report from Brave reveals that people seeking help for addiction, disability, and poverty on council websites are profiled by private companies in the UK.

Brave announces Surveillance on UK council websites, a study of private companies’ data collection on council websites across the United Kingdom.

Brave has uncovered widespread surveillance of UK citizens by private companies embedded on UK council websites. “Surveillance on UK council websites”, a new report from Brave, reveals the extent of private companies’ surveillance of UK citizens when they seek help for addiction, disability, and poverty from their local government authorities.

None of the data collecting companies recorded in this study had received consent from the website visitor to lawfully process data. 

Quick Facts:

  • Nearly all councils in the UK permit at least one company to learn about the behaviour of people visiting their websites. Tweet this
  • People seeking information about disability, poverty, drugs and alcoholism services are profiled by data brokers on some council websites. Tweet this
  • 198 council websites in the UK use the “real-time bidding” (RTB) form of advertising. Real-time bidding is the biggest data breach ever recorded in the UK. Though illegality is not in dispute, the UK Information Commissioner (ICO) has failed to act. Tweet this 
  • Google owns all five of the top embedded elements loaded by UK council websites, giving it the power to know what virtually anyone in the UK views on council sites. Tweet this
  • Over of a quarter of the UK population is served by councils that embed Twitter, Facebook, and others on their websites, leaking data about what sensitive issues people read about to these companies. Tweet this
  • 6.9 million people are served by councils that allow data broker LiveRamp to track people on their sites. Until recently, LiveRamp was part of the Acxiom Group, which sold data to Cambridge Analytica. Tweet this
  • None of the data collecting companies recorded in this study had received consent from the website visitor to lawfully process data. Tweet this
  • This report should spur Elizabeth Denham, the UK Information Commissioner, to finally enforce the GDPR. It is 17 months since formal evidence from Brave and complaints about breaches of data protection laws were filed before the ICO. Tweet this

Use the Data Leaks Explorer tool to check the council in your local area. 

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Embeddable version of the full report

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<iframe src=”//www.slideshare.net/slideshow/embed_code/key/Jz0V9ue6AFscM1″ width=”595″ height=”485″ frameborder=”0″ marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″ scrolling=”no” style=”border:1px solid #CCC; border-width:1px; margin-bottom:5px; max-width: 100%;” allowfullscreen> </iframe> <div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”//www.slideshare.net/pagefair/2015-ad-blocking-report-the-cost-of-adblocking” title=”2015 Ad Blocking Report – The Cost of Adblocking” target=”_blank”>2015 Ad Blocking Report – The Cost of Adblocking</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/pagefair” target=”_blank”>PageFair</a></strong> </div>

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Our findings show that councils are exposing the people of the UK to mass profiling. This is dangerous, because it leads manipulation and discrimination”, said Dr Johnny Ryan, Chief Policy Officer of Brave. “This is a problem when an algorithm decides to not shortlist your application for a job based on your previous activity on a council’s drugs support page, for example.

Once your interests and online activity is out in the wild you have no idea how it might be used”, said Dr Ryan. “The conventional web browsers do not protect against this”.

Failure of ICO enforcement

Real-time bidding is the biggest data breach ever recorded in the UK. Though illegality is not in dispute, the UK’s privacy regulator (the ICO) has failed to act.

Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript and CEO of Brave, said “this report should spur the UK Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, to finally enforce the law. She should force data companies to cease the widespread broadcast of personal data”.

It is now a full 17 months since evidence from Brave and complaints about breaches of data protection laws were filed before the ICO”, said Mr Eich. “The time to act is now”.

Timeline of ICO inaction: 

  • January 2018 The ICO is contacted by Dr Johnny Ryan, then an industry whistle blower, about the RTB data breach.
  • September 2018 Brave initiates a campaign of formal GDPR complaints to stop the RTB data breach. The ICO receives Brave’s evidence in GDPR complaints from Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group and Dr Michael Veale.
  • June 2019 The ICO announces that RTB is currently unlawful, and gives the industry six months to clean up.
  • December 2019 The ICO’s six month grace period for the RTB industry ends. No substantive action is proposed by industry.
  • January 2020 The ICO announces it accepts the RTB industry’s gestures, and will take no immediate action to stop the continuing RTB data breach.

See more at https://brave.com/rtb-updates/.

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