The ICO has ruled that the original wording of the Conservative party survey 'What matters most to you', about which MRS raised concerns, did indeed fail to follow ICO good practice guidelines.

As a result of a number of factors, including subsequent changes to the wording, the ICO is not taking further action in this case. Below you can read the ICO’s full response. 

MRS will be writing to all political parties shortly to remind them of their responsibility to follow best practice when conducting research, and advising them where to find such guidance. For example, ICO's Guidance on political campaigning.

Letter from ICO to Jane Frost, chief executive of MRS
30 April 2014 

Dear Ms Frost

Christopher Graham has asked me to write to you on his behalf in response to your letter of 24 March 2014 about the Conservative Party survey, “What matters most to you” (the survey).

Since receiving your letter we have written to the Conservative Party to ask for clarification of the survey’s purpose and whether the Conservative Party has contacted any of the individual respondents or intends to do so. We have now considered the Conservative Party’s response and the issues you raise in your letter about both the original wording of the survey and the updated survey wording about the use by the Conservative Party of the survey responses and contact details.

The Conservative Party has explained to us that the data collected as part of the survey is used for research projects. They also said that they use the email addresses provided in response to a survey such as this one for communication campaigns and that the individuals who completed the survey would have received one or more email on subjects such as the economy. The Conservative Party has provided us with copies of the emails sent to respondents. All of the emails the Conservative Party says it has sent to individuals who responded to the survey included an option to click a link to unsubscribe from future communications.

We consider that the original wording at the end of the survey did not follow the good practice we describe in our ‘Guidance for political parties for campaigning or promotional purposes’ (Guidance for political parties). In our view the survey’s wording did not state clearly and explicitly that by providing an email address the individual was consenting to the use of their email details in any current and future campaigns. Having said this, we recognise that, while not being an example of good practice, the wording did provide respondents with some information about the use of their email address should they choose to respond to the survey. Additionally the survey was entirely voluntary. We also note thatthe email messages sent to individuals who provided their contact details all included an opportunity for individuals to unsubscribe from receipt of further communications. As such we do not intend to take any further action in connection with the survey in its original form.

The updated survey wording allows potential survey respondents to click a link to access the Conservative Party’s Privacy Policy to find out more about how the Conservative Party will use responses and the contact details given by respondents to online polls and Q & A informational sites. The Privacy Policy explains what the data provided in response to the survey will be used for, including “to provide you with tailored information on the relevant subject area”.

We have informed the Conservative party that we consider good practice would be for the survey itself to state, prominently, clearly and explicitly, that the information collected will be used for both market research and for marketing without the need to access the Privacy Policy via a hyperlink. However, we recognise that the Conservative Party Privacy Policy does explain to individuals that the data they provide in response to online polls and Q & A informational sites will be used for both research and for marketing purposes. We therefore do not intend to take any further action in respect of this survey.

We have strongly encouraged the Conservative Party to move towards our suggested good practice by stating the purpose of surveys more clearly and prominently so that individuals are aware of how their responses will be used and what will happen to their contact details if they choose to provide them.

The actions of political parties come under close scrutiny from the public and the media and we are aware of concerns about their use of surveys. We recognise that research is an important tool for the development of the political parties’ policies and will be reminding parties and candidates that complying with the legislation and following our good practice guidance should enable them to conduct research while respecting individuals’ privacy.

Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.

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