UCAS Condemned for Selling Students' Data
18 March 2014
campaigners have condemned the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)
for its ‘underhand’ use of students’ data for commercial advertisers.
received more than £12m last year in return for sending targeted advertising to subscribers. The service sells the
access via its commercial arm, Ucas Media.
Vodafone, O2, Microsoft and the private university
accommodation provider Pure Student Living are among those who have marketed
through UCAS, which offers access to over a million student email addresses and
a market worth a claimed £15bn a year.
Meanwhile, the UCAS offshoot
Ucas Progress, set up two years ago to serve pupils from aged 13 looking for
post-16 courses, is also collecting data. Children who sign up for Ucas
Progress via their schools are encouraged by the company to agree to receive
marketing by email from ‘carefully selected third parties’.
Emma Carr, deputy director of the privacy lobby group Big
Brother Watch, said: ‘UCAS is perfectly within the law to sell on this
information, but the way they are doing so, as is the situation with most data
gathering organisations, is underhand. It goes far beyond what students would
expect them to do with their data. Students should be explicitly asked for their permission before
UCAS can sell their information on and UCAS should be open and transparent
about who it is selling the data on to.’
University applicants are given
the option of refusing mailings when they register with UCAS. However, the
application form does not distinguish between commercial mailings and
information from universities and potential employers.
A UCAS spokesperson said: ‘UCAS
and Ucas Media comply strictly with all applicable laws and regulations, in the
way in which we handle personal data. Ucas Media has strict guidelines for the
different groups that we may cover, based on the age sensitivities of our
audiences. For example, Ucas Media does not accept political, alcohol or
tobacco related products for marketing.’
UCAS's accounts say ‘the majority’ of Ucas Media's profits are
gift aided to the parent company, which is a charity as well as a company. It
argues that the contribution keeps down applicant fees, currently £23 per
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