Brexit looks set to further sink the already battered reputation of tracking cookies after a Buzzfeed report yesterday revealed what appears to be a plan by the UK’s minority government to use official government websites to harvest personal data on UK citizens for targeting purposes.
According to leaked government documents obtained by the news site, the prime minister has instructed government departments to share website usage data that’s collected via gov.uk websites with ministers on a cabinet committee tasked with preparing for a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
It’s not clear how linking up citizens use of essential government portals could further ‘no deal’ prep.
Rather the suspicion is it’s a massive, consent-less voter data grab by party political forces preparing for an inevitable general election in which the current Tory PM plans to campaign on a pro-Brexit message.
The instruction to pool gov.uk usage data as a “top priority” is also being justified internally in instructions to civil servants as necessary to accelerate plans for a digital revolution in public services — an odd ASAP to be claiming at a time of national, Brexit-induced crisis when there are plenty more pressing priorities (given the October 31 EU exit date looming).
A government spokesperson nonetheless told Buzzfeed the data is being collected to improve service delivery. They also claimed it’s “anonymized” data.
“Individual government departments currently collect anonymised user data when people use gov.uk. The Government Digital Service is working on a project to bring this anonymous data together to make sure people can access all the services they need as easily as possible,” the spokesperson said, further claiming: “No personal data is collected at any point during the process, and all activity is fully compliant with our legal and ethical obligations.”
However privacy experts quickly pointed out the nonsense of trying to pretend that joined up user data given a shared identifier is in any way anonymous.