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Concerns raised over Covid visitor data collected by UK attractions

The Natural History Museum shared visitor data with Facebook as it “hoovered up” personal details during the pandemic, according to the Telegraph.

The newspaper reports that the London attraction obtained more than 700,000 sets of data with the help of the Covid-19 booking system. It shares some of its visitor information with third parties, including Facebook owner Meta and NHS Test and Trace.

While the Natural History Museum, along with other publicly funded attractions, can ordinarily be entered without a ticket, online booking forms brought in during the Covid-19 crisis meant visitors had to provide details such as names, addresses and phone numbers.

While some visitors and privacy campaigners may be unhappy at this sharing of information, the practice is entirely legal. The museum told the Telegraph that sample information it makes available to Meta is “pseudonymised” and used “to help us to target our advertising communications” and “identify new users likely to be interested in our content”.

A spokesman for the Natural History Museum told the Telegraph that no personal data collected through ticket bookings was shared with third parties to assist their marketing.

The spokesman said:  “The museum has always offered visitors the opportunity to opt into marketing communications. This information helps us to continuously improve our offer to visitors and to inspire audiences to take positive action for nature.”

The Telegraph report cites Freedom of Information (FoI) data which also alleges that The National Gallery saw a 50% increase in the data it collected, despite lockdowns, with its information being made accessible to NHS Test and Trace. The Science Museum’s five sites collected 45% more data than they did before the pandemic. No data was sold by any of these institutions and all data use is within data protection rules, which are outlined in the privacy policies on their websites.

Jim Killock, director of the online privacy campaigner the Open Rights Group, has criticised the use of ticketing systems for “hoovering up data”.

Killock told the Telegraph: “The pandemic is not an excuse to collect anything and everything. There are continued risks of drifting into a surveillance society, and cultural institutions should ensure they play no part in that.”

Image: Sheng L on Unsplash