RESEARCH FIRM Ipsos Mori has been accused of shopping around identifying details for 27 million EE mobile phone users, although the network has debunked the reports.
The Sunday Times reported that the firm offered EE call and text data to the police, and the paper said that the law withdrew from the deal once word of the sale became public.
The Met confirmed to us that meetings had taken place, but said that it was not buying the data, adding that it didn't want it anyway.
"The MPS held an initial meeting with Ipsos Mori to discuss whether their research can assist with tackling crime in London," said a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Service.
"The MPS has made no offer to purchase data from Ipsos Mori nor has any intention of doing so."
According to the Sunday Times' front page story, Ipsos Mori has been shopping the records around and bragging that the data can be used to track people and their location in real time to within 100 metres.
It sounds a lot like what the Snoopers' Charter was expected to achieve, but if the Communications Bill was shady, this is pitch black.
In a statement Ipsos Mori said that it is not trying to sell any personal information, and in tweeted messages its CEO Ben Page poured cold water over shouts about pinpoint personal placement. In response to questioning he told one tweeter that there is "nothing to identify u".
@spyblog if we did that we would only have amalgamated Mosaic code type data for an area roughly 700 metres square - nothing to identify u— Ben Page, Ipsos MORI (@benatipsosmori) May 12, 2013
"In response to the article published today (Sunday 12th May 2013) by the Sunday Times, Ipsos Mori absolutely refutes the suggestion that it is offering access to individual personal data for sale," said a longer statement posted to the research firm's website.
"In the cutting edge research that Ipsos MORI is doing with EE, the UK's largest mobile operator, our mobile analytics explore user volume, demographics and mobile web use from anonymised and aggregated groups of people. In conducting this research we only receive anonymised data without any personally identifiable information. We have taken every care to ensure it is being carried out in compliance with all relevant legal and regulatory requirements."
According to the statement Ipsos Mori receives only anonymised data and nothing that could be considered personally identifiable.
"We do not have access to any names, personal address information, nor postcodes or phone numbers," it said. "We will never release any data that in any way allows an individual to be identified."
Pirate Party UK leader Loz Kaye found reports of the death of the deal rather hard to swallow.
He suggested that EE had overextended its reach, and that this news conflicted with promises made by the firms when they agreed to share the mobile phone firm's "entire database".
"It's tempting to think that EE have taken their name Everything Everywhere too literally. Ipsos Mori seem to want to have it both ways. Given the well documented problems with anonymisation, while Ben Page's statements are welcome, they are not entirely reassuring. It's difficult to square these promises with Ipsos Mori's announcement to the markets back in April that the deal will give 'the ability to access EE's entire database', he said.
"Reports that some of this data may have been offered to the police are particularly alarming. There is no point in the government announcing that they don't want a Snoopers' Charter only to get a privatised one by the back door. Companies must start to realise that it is against their interests to treat their customers this way. Otherwise we just end up being commodities in a 21st century data gold rush."
Kaye was referring to announcements made by Ipsos Mori earlier this year when it signed its deal with EE, the umbrella name for T-Mobile and Orange.
"EE supplies mobile phone and data services to 27 million clients," it said in April. "Ipsos will at last be able to understand their behaviour and thus help our clients make the best use of the immense potential of mobile handsets."
However, EE rubbished the suggestion that it would sell its customers' personal information to anyone. In a statement it said that any information about its users is anonymised and could not be used to identify individuals.
"The suggestion that we sell the personal information of our customers to third parties is misleading to say the least. The information is anonymised and aggregrated, and cannot be used to identify the personal information of individual customers. We would never breach the trust our customers place in us and we always act to comply fully with the Data Protection Act," it said.
"Working with Ipsos Mori we carry out market research, like many other internet and telecommunication companies, to determine trending and better understand customer behaviour. Most importantly, any data analysis is entirely aggregated and anonymised and it is simply not possible to extract any personal information from this." µ