I’ve just received a response from the ICO to my initial question about whether or not they were investigating the Twitter/DataSift issue (about which I’ve just blogged here)
This is the full response (set down here with the permission of Dr Simon Rice of the ICO)
David Smith passed on your email regarding Twitter/DataSift.
The ICO is aware of an arrangement between Twitter and some third-parties which permits access to a greater volume of Tweets than would normally be accessible through the website or API. Insofar as they are required to comply with UK law both Twitter and these third-parties would need to ensure that they remain compliant with the DPA and PECR for the processing undertaken with such data.
The report linked to from your blog suggests that the data is used for purposes of thematic analysis and not for direct marketing or otherwise attempting to identify the users of the Twitter accounts. This is important because clearly a third party learning that I might be interested in their products and marketing me on that basis still needs to comply with the rules on marketing and still needs to justify why they are holding personal data relating to me; on the other hand, a third party which analyses the mass of tweets to infer that their efforts are best focussed on a particular demographic or geographical area might not face the same compliance problems. Then, of course, there are the mass of third parties whose activities lie somewhere in the middle.
I you have any further questions please feel free to get in contact.
Dr Simon Rice Principal Policy Adviser (Technology)
Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.
I would welcome any responses – but it seems to me that we would need to see the details of the agreement between Twitter and DataSift (and any other subsequent agreements) to see whether they meet the requirements of the ICO as set out in the letter. There’s more to investigate here – I will be interested to see how DataSift might be able to guarantee that they will only be using the data for thematic analysis rather than direct marketing, and have written to DataSift to ask that question.
Dr Rice has asked that anyone contacting the ICO directly should use the usual ICO website or helpline (see https://www.ico.gov.uk/Global/contact_us.aspx)