EE data "being sold to track customers"

13 May 2013
smartphones

Sunday Times story accuses mobile network of selling user data for tracking purposes

EE has been accused of selling customers' personal data to an analytics firm, which in turn looked to sell it on to the Met Police for tracking purposes, according to The Sunday Times.

The report alleges that the data passed on to Ipsos MORI included gender and age information, users' postcodes, as well as information on when and to whom calls were made, plus web and app use details - and would be able to track a user's location within 100 metres.

The Sunday Times said the Metropolitan Police admitted it was considering buying access to such data, but has now decided not to.

Ipsos MORI denied the claims it's selling personal data, saying the information is "anonymised" and contains groups of people no smaller than 50.

Ipos MORI said it didn't have access to names, addresses, postcode or phone numbers, but can see how many people visited a website, for example.

It's unclear how anonymised data would be of any use to the Met Police, but further details from The Sunday Times report claims Ipsos MORI ran a location-tracking trial last summer on Olympic visitors and shoppers, with a document claiming: "We can understand not only where people are going, but what they have been doing before, during and after they visited these various locations."

In Ipsos MORI's lastest round of results, it claimed to have "the ability to access EE's entire database and thus to analyse the behaviour of groups of people in real-time".

Ben Page, CEO of Ipsos MORI, told PC Pro: "We can search its entire database – but do not hold it. [For example] we wouldn't be looking at what they [customers] do on their phones all the time. Rather, we might ask EE for aggregate data on websites visited by people in shopping centres, for example - and it would then provide only the anonymised and aggregate day to answer that specific search."

"So we can look for subscribers that meet specific criteria to answer specific questions, but we're not routinely looking at all subscribers," he said, stressing the company would not be reporting on any group with less than 50 people.

An EE spokesman told PC Pro that it passed no individual data to Ipsos MORI, saying location data is based on distance to the nearest mast. The idea behind sharing the data is to give third-party firms the ability to see what people searched for on their mobiles immediately after exiting a tube station, or when at a shopping centre.

Asked about The Sunday Times claim that Ipsos MORI is offering more data than that to potential customers such as the Met Police, the EE spokesman said such data is "completely separate".

"What Ipsos can do for other clients is beyond what they can get from us," he added, saying the information given to Ipsos MORI by EE doesn't even included a reference number.

Ipsos MORI and EE company both said they were in compliance with the Data Protection Act and European directives on privacy.

The Information Commissioner's Office said: "Where an organisation wants to sell customer data, this must be done in compliance with the Data Protection Act. We have spoken to Ipsos Mori and Everything Everywhere who explained that the information being sold is anonymised and aggregated, and so should not allow for a specific individual to be directly or indirectly identified." The data watchdog said it has no plans to investigate further.

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