Market research firm Ipsos MORI has refuted the suggestion that it is selling EE customers' personal data its clients, claiming that all information is anonymised and aggregrated, and cannot be connected to individual customers.
According to a report in The Sunday Times yesterday, the UK's largest mobile operator EE — formed in 2010 from a merger between Orange and T-Mobile — has struck a deal with Ipsos MORI to pass on customer data, including which websites smartphone users visit.
The report alleges that the data available includes gender, age and postcodes of users, as well as friendship networks, time of calls, mobile web usage and customer location to within 100 metres.
This data would primarily be of use to market researchers and advertisers, but The Sunday Times claims that Scotland Yard held a meeting with Ipsos MORI on 22 March about the possibility of paying for some of the data to fight crime.
This has led to speculation that the police are looking for ways to snoop on citizens' online behaviour, with some people comparing it to the recently-denounced Communications Data Bill, which would have given security services sweeping powers to monitor internet activity.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police confirmed that an initial discussion had been held with Ipsos MORI, but that it had not made an offer to purchase the data, nor did not have any intention of doing so.
Meanwhile, Ipsos MORI said that its mobile analytics explore user volume, demographics and mobile web use from anonymised and aggregated groups of people. It does not have access to any names, personal address information, postcodes or phone numbers.
"In conducting this research we only receive anonymised data without any personally identifiable information," the company said in a statement.
"We have taken every care to ensure it is being carried out in compliance with all relevant legal and regulatory requirements, including the Data Protection Act and Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations (both as amended)."
Mobile operator EE added that many other internet and telecommunication companies conduct similar market research, to determine trending and better understand customer behaviour. All data is anonymised and aggregated into groups of 50 or more customers.
"It is simply not possible to extract any personal information from this," the company said.
The controversial Communications Data Bill, better known as the "snooper's charter," did not feature in this month's Queen's Speech. However, the Queen did say that the government would "bring forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace".
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