A new report reveals that private companies can access the personal information of citizens that use UK council websites. Those targeted are seeking help for addiction, poverty, or disability, and their data is tracked and exploited for profit.
Visitors to the government-created sites have not offered their consent for the collected data to be lawfully processed. Researchers at Brave believe that GDPR investigations should target all organizations involved in the scheme.
Nearly all UK councils allow at least one company to get details about the behavior of those who visit their websites. One hundred ninety eight of these sites use a real-time bidding system. Researchers believe this to be the most significant data breach ever seen in the United Kingdom.
Google, the biggest destination for advertising dollars on the Internet, owns the five top embedded trackers on the evaluated sites. The company benefits directly from access to the data of people seeking help for poverty, addiction, and other issues.
Facebook and Twitter also have embedded elements on the UK council Internet infrastructure. LiveRamp, a data broker that has sold data to Cambridge Analytica, can track information on sites that are visited by an estimated 6.9 million citizens. It is unclear how many of them use a VPN or another solution to keep their data private.
The research team at Brave, the creators of a privacy-focused browser, is offering a full PDF report on the topic. It delivers details about the companies that benefit from the tracking and how the problem can be eliminated. The researchers do not mention VPN use as a potential solution.
Doctor Johnny Ryan, the Chief Policy Officer at Brave, adds on the official site:
Once your interests and online activity is out in the wild you have no idea how it might be used. The conventional web browsers do not protect against this.
The organization is asking Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner of the United Kingdom, to investigate UK council sites. She should make sure that the websites conform to GDPR and do not allow tracking without consent from visitors.
VPNs become a requirement for government websites
The United Kingdom is considered a country that does not place too many restrictions on Internet use for its citizens. At the same time, it allows big companies to try and scoop up as much information about user activity as they can. The revelations about the council website tracking should lead to changes in visitor behavior.
A Virtual Private Network solution can help users keep their traffic private and limit the amount of private information collected. The government should also create websites that keep out trackers from private companies.
Readers need to be aware that the United Kingdom is part of the 5 Eyes Alliance, an organization that allows states to share surveillance data. It will enable a government to get the data of a dedicated VPN user if it considers it essential to national security. We have more details on the 5,9, and 14 Alliances in our dedicated article.
Brave, the company that created the report, also offers a privacy-focused browser that can add an extra layer of protection to your data. The program is based on Chromium and it automatically blocks both ads and website trackers. The browser also allows users to send a particular cryptocurrency, the Basic Attention Token, to content creators and website owners.
The makers of ExpressVPN have recently issued a report that offers more details about censorship around the world. It provides even more reasons to pick up a VPN service and to use it regularly. Even the government and other trusted sites can hide embedded trackers and other privacy threats.