AT: “You look like an FPÖ voter!”

2B Advice
Österreichische Post sells data on the presumed party affinity of individuals for advertising purposes.

The Österreichische Post (Austrian postal service) collects numerous categories of data on various people who receive a letter or parcel. In addition to names and addresses, this may also include gender, marital status, age, and estimated annual income. Österreichische Post sells these categories of data for marketing purposes. A model like the one offered by Deutsche Post. There, data records can be selected for advertising purposes according to certain categories (age, place of residence, estimated annual income) and rented or purchased.

On January 7, 2019, it became known that Österreichische Post was collecting additional data on party affinity. This is an estimate of which party a person feels they most strongly belong to. This estimate is based on a calculation model that checks generally accessible sources and statistics. The estimated age of the person and their place of residence are added to produce an affinity to one or more parties. Almost like the Wahl-o-Mat. Only person-related.

Party affinity is a problem for the Österreichische Post model. According to Art. 9 GDPR, the political opinion of a person belongs to the special categories of personal data. This also includes data on racial and ethnic origin, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, genetic or biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying a person, data concerning health, and data concerning a person’s sex life. These data categories may only be processed under special conditions, e.g. with express consent. Processing for direct marketing purposes on the basis of a legitimate interest, as may be possible in certain circumstances for data categories such as name and address, is not permitted.

Österreichische Post insists on the legality of its actions and refers to Section 151 GewO 1994, which permits the disclosure of data for marketing purposes. Special categories of data are also included in this, provided that the data subject has expressly consented (Section 151(4) GewO 1994). Without this consent, and only if the data subject has raised no objection, under Section 151(5) GewO 1994, only name, gender, title, academic degree, address, date of birth, and professional or business name may be passed on for marketing purposes. Österreichische Post was unable to show express consent from the data subjects to the recording or transfer of party affinity. 

Two practical lessons can be drawn from this case.

Firstly: When it comes to purchased data, do not blindly rely on the legality of its collection. This can have serious consequences for the buyer, who is himself responsible for the lawfulness of the data processing.
Secondly: The use of special categories of data for advertising purposes must be preceded by a very thorough examination.

According to the latest information, Österreichische Post has deleted data on political affinity and announced that it will cooperate closely with Austria’s data protection authority after this authority, in turn, announced proceedings.

Photo: © doomu - Footolia


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