BBC will ‘retain your viewing history’

Imagine an Auntie who never forgets

Last week the BBC launched a mobile app, called BBC+, delivering “customisable content collections” to your phone or tablet. It’s a personalised service which requires an email address.

Last year, when the corporation announced its plans for personalised services, it made several data protection promises. Specifically, Phil Fearnley (“Director of Homepage and myBBC”) promised:

“We’ll put you in control over how we use your data, and be open and transparent about what we’re using your data for. You will always be able to change or delete it.”

But that isn’t entirely true. The BBC tells us data is retained even after you delete your account - only in “anonymised” form.

Here’s what a spokesman told us:

Is it possible to delete your profile?
You can delete your BBC Account.

When a profile is deleted is the data deleted along with it?
Personally Identifiable Information is deleted.  We continue to store some activity data in an anonymised form.

Please tell me of how the ICO has advised the BBC on personal data protection?
We have met and continue to engage with the ICO on personal data usage. We regularly review the ICO’s published guidance about current and future legislation, particularly in relation to GDPR. We comply with all aspects of the Data Protection Act and take the operational privacy and security of people’s personal information very seriously. The BBC currently has a privacy policy which is published at

What does anonymised mean?

As we know from work by privacy researchers, it’s trivially easy to personally identify an individual from “anonymised” metadata. Particularly if you have the individual’s location data. This issue has spawned the field of differential privacy research, which was recently joined by a high profile supporter: Apple. It’s something Apple is attempting to address with "differential privacy".

We’re trying to find out what, exactly, the BBC means by anonymised and will let you know. As Fearnley says, the BBC is not trying to sell you anything, so does not have the commercial incentive to mine your viewing history. But others might find that viewing history very useful. ®


The pledge in full:

We believe your data is yours. Wherever we collect and use your data, we will only use it to bring you the things that matter to you, surface hidden gems that you might not otherwise have found, and improve the BBC’s services. We’ll put you in control over how we use your data, and be open and transparent about what we’re using your data for. You will always be able to change or delete it. We will not do anything with your data that isn’t clearly explained, or that you don’t agree to. We will never sell your data, let other organisations track what you do with the BBC for their own purposes, or spam you.


A BBC Spokesperson told us:

“Users can provide personal information for some of our services to get a better, more personal experience. If a user deletes their account all personal data is deleted. It’s as though they never created one. The only data of any kind that we retain is the same basic and anonymous traffic data that we, or any other website, would receive when you visit it. This data is not linked to any individual and simply tells us that an article has been viewed or that a programme has been watched.”

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