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Data complaint lodged against GeoDirectory for 'selling personal information' to companies

The ICCL said it was able to buy data about people living in Limerick and Dublin and whether they are “deprived’, “struggling” or “affluent”.

THE IRISH COUNCIL for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has lodged a complaint to the Data Protection Commission against GeoDirectory, the address database set up by An Post and Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI).

The ICCL claims that GeoDirectory is selling personal information, such as people’s social class and family status, to companies. 

The organisation said it was able to buy data about people living in Limerick and Dublin and whether they’re “deprived’, “struggling” or “affluent”.

“I was able to buy data about each of my neighbours, how much money they have, and whether they are single or not. This information is specially protected under EU law,” ICCL Tech and Human Rights Officer Olga Cronin said.

“But GeoDirectory markets this information to businesses to match names and addresses on their existing customer lists to GeoDirectory’s profiles about their customers.”

The ICCL said that 2.2 million Irish homes and their residents are profiled under headings such as “striving urban singles”, “deprived urban families” or “struggling older families”.  

Cronin said that GeoDirectory is breaching General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as EU data protection law defines any data that can single out a person “directly or indirectly” as protected personal data.

“The law is clear. GeoDirectory, An Post, and OSI are infringing the GDPR. It’s time for the Data Protection Commission to step in,” she added.

GeoDirectory was jointly established by An Post and OSI in 1999 to maintain a database of commercial and residential dwellings in Ireland.

The database is used by a number of organisations, including Aviva, the Central Statistics Office (CSO), ESB Networks and Experian Ireland. 

According to the ICCL, GeoDirectory’s data are supplied by An Post, OSI, and the census, including income, labour market skills, age, cultural background, and family status. 

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for An Post said that GeoDirectory “uses only publicly available information”.

“We are unaware of any complaint to the Data Protection Commissioner at this stage but happy to engage with the Commissioner if required,” they added.

A statement to The Journal from Aviva said: “Aviva Insurance Ireland DAC (Aviva) confirms that it uses the address and location data from GeoDirectory. This is not unique to Aviva, with many other insurers using GeoDirectory services, for example, to identify areas at high risk of flooding.

“However, Aviva do not licence, receive, hold or use any of the GEOdirectory social profiling information outlined in ICCL’s press release,” the statement said.

In a statement to The Journal, the CSO said that it never sells or shares information with third parties.

“Personal information provided to the CSO in the Census and other surveys is fully confidential and is protected by law, under Section 33 of the Statistics Act, 1993,” the statement said.

It said that all data published by the CSO is in aggregate form so that it never identifies individuals or households. “No details related to an identifiable person or individual household are ever divulged to private businesses, government departments or public bodies,” it said.

It added that data collected by the CSO is only ever used for statistical purposes and that all aggregated statistics are freely available to everyone to view on their website. 

“Publishing data in aggregate form means no individual or household is identifiable. No third party has access to any individual’s data provided to the CSO.

“As the national statistics agency, the CSO collects data about many aspects of Irish people’s lives to provide information for government, other agencies, businesses and communities to help them make informed decisions, allocate resources and plan for the future.”

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