Data protection issues with the Conservatives’ iPhone app for canvassing?

iPhone app developer Dave Addey has been investigating the Conservatives’ iPhone app used for canvassing: its general election app asks users to pass on their friends’ details, using data extracted from the users’ iPhone address books, in addition to noting their voting intention.

Calling the hypothetical app user ‘Peter’, and calling his hypothetical unwitting friend, ‘Bob’, Dave writes:

When I first saw this process, I thought it seemed a little odd. Normally, when you give out your personal details, it’s made clear how these details will be used, with a privacy policy and an opportunity to say “yes, I agree”. I couldn’t see any of this in the Conservative Party app. And in fact, it’s not Peter’s details being submitted – it’s Bob’s. Who doesn’t get a say in it at all.

So Dave has delved into the Data Protection Act and made some enquiries, to see if the Tories have slipped up. As we know from the Ashes to Ashes copyright saga, political parties sometimes need reminding of good old-fashioned law in the rush to build campaign buzz.

Dave concludes (quoted directly from his blog):

  • It’s possible that personal data is being stored or processed by the Conservative Party, without them having any contact with the person whose data is being processed
  • There is no verification that the data is provided with the consent of the person that data refers to
  • The app doesn’t give a clear indication of what the data will be used for
  • Neither the app nor its supporting web sites contain a privacy notice describing how the data may be stored and used

Now Dave’s blog is lively with commenters far more acquainted with the DPA and political canvassing procedure than me, so best to read the ongoing debate for yourself over there.

Now, it could be coincidence, but there’s been an interesting development…

The iPhone app info (The Conservative Party General Election App) has been updated with an additional disclaimer (since Dave published his post, he says). It now reads:

When using the “Call a Friend” feature, please confirm you have the consent of the friend or relative whose details you are passing onto us. The Conservative Party will inform your friend or relative how it obtained his or her details. Information obtained by the Conservative Party from this App will not be used for electronic mailing purposes.

So, what about the people who already downloaded the app? Will they see this info?

Dave also remarks, in an update to his post, “while this text mentions what the information won’t be used for, it still doesn’t say what it will be used for. Would be good to know.”


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