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1 Apr, 2018 18:39

Merkel’s party bought voter data from Deutsche Post during 2017 election race – report

Merkel’s party bought voter data from Deutsche Post during 2017 election race – report

Germany’s national mail service Deutsche Post reportedly sold personal data, including information on voters’ gender, wealth and consumer habits, to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party ahead of the 2017 elections.

Both the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) began acquiring information from a Deutsche Post subsidiary in advance of the September 2017 general elections, Bild newspaper revealed. Gaining access to versatile user data through the formerly state-owned postal corporation may have allowed them to tailor political ads, the report suggests. 

Over one billion data items collected by Deutsche Post from more than 34 million German households was reportedly made available to the two parties, which engaged in unsuccessful coalition talks in autumn last year.

Citizens’ gender, family status, education, consumer habits and wealth, as well as their housing situation and car ownership were disclosed among around 100 data categories, which were to be used for insight into Germans’ potential voting habits. It is said that Deutsche Post did not disclose “specific” details about individuals.

In the 2017 poll, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right CDU/CSU bloc won 33 percent of votes, making it the largest party in the parliament. Merkel’s main rivals, Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats (SPD), slid to just over 20 percent. The far-right, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party made a historic breakthrough, winning 13.5 percent of the vote.

The CDU and FDP acknowledged that they did acquire voter data, but said this was done in compliance with Germany’s strict data-protection laws. Deutsche Post also stated that it had not broken any privacy laws. The postal service openly promotes targeted-marketing services on its website, which include “person-specific” and “socio-demographic” information. “Would you like to win new customers in the highly contested market with the help of targeted mailings?” the website asks, adding that around 46 million addresses nationwide are available for direct marketing.

Nevertheless, the revelation sparked outrage among local politicians. Anke Domscheit-Berg, formerly an MP with Germany’s Pirate Party and now a privacy activist, said that selling voter-related information was “intolerable,” and that disclosure of private data without explicit consent “must be prohibited without any ‘ifs’ and ‘buts.’”

Hamburg's Data Protection Commissioner Johannes Caspar blasted what he called “voter manipulation,” adding that targeting citizens “for the purpose of election advertising” must be revised after the Facebook data-mining scandal. Cambridge Analytica, the British firm at the center of the controversy, has been accused of mining the data of 50 million Facebook users without their explicit knowledge or consent, and then attempting to use it to influence voters.

US President Donald Trump’s election campaign is reported to have paid the British firm more than $5 million. Cambridge Analytica has denied any wrongdoing, but said it takes recent allegations of unethical practices “very seriously.”