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ICO probes universities accused of using private data to target donation campaigns

Students allegedly screened for wealth, tendency to give money

Twenty-four British universities are being probed by the Information Commissioner's Office after being accused of using their ex-students' data to target those most likely to be extra alma to their mater.

An investigation by the Daily Mail published today claimed the Russell Group used "wealth screening firms" to analyse their alumni's personal details, such as overall wealth, property and pension value, and previous charity donations.

This analysis was used to make tailored fundraising initiatives based on ex-students' specific interests, claimed the paper, which alleged that this practice had been happening since 1997.

The ICO, supported by the Department for Education, launched an investigation last night based on the paper's information.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham told the Mail: "Personal data belongs to the individual. That means telling people what it's going to be used for and who it's going to be shared with. This is what the law requires.

"We will look carefully at the evidence provided by the Daily Mail to see if and where any rules have been broken."

A statement from the Russell Group said: “All Russell Group universities in England and Wales are registered with the Fundraising Regulator and when there are changes in guidance on best practice they will follow these closely. Our members are hugely grateful for the ongoing commitment to higher education shown by so many Russell Group alumni and take their privacy very seriously.”

The accusations put forward are similar to practices for which 11 charities have been fined for by the ICO in April this year. The commissioner said at the time they had been failing to follow data protection rules. ®


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