The Natural History Museum shared visitor data with Facebook as cultural attractions ‘sucked up’ personal details during the pandemic, The Telegraph has learned.
Publicly funded institutions like the British Museum and the National Gallery can usually be entered without a ticket, but online booking forms introduced during the Covid-19 crisis meant visitors had to provide names, addresses and phone numbers to guarantee a time slot.
Although the attractions are closing for much of the pandemic, they have gathered millions of data sets between them, and it is understood that visitor information is used for marketing purposes and shared with third parties. , including the government, NHS Test and Trace and Facebook.
The Natural History Museum (NHM) has ‘sucked up’ 702,900 entries using the Covid-19 reservation system, according to information from FOI, which reveals some of its visitor data is shared with Meta – the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.
The data collected “helps target communications”
The museum said the sample information it makes available to Meta is “pseudonymized” and used “to help us target our advertising communications” and “identify new users who may be interested in our content.” . This practice is completely legal.
The NHM has seen 140% more data entries during the pandemic than before, despite repeated lockdowns limiting visitor numbers through online booking systems which remain in place, although no longer mandatory.
Jim Killock, director of online privacy campaigner Open Rights Group, criticized the use of ticketing systems to “suck up data”.
He said: “The pandemic is no excuse to collect anything and everything.
“There are persistent risks of drifting into a surveillance society, and cultural institutions should ensure they play no role in this.”
He added that the pandemic has not allowed “free-for-all data entry”, warning against institutions “collecting, retaining and using attendance data”.
Increase in the volume of data collected
Publicly funded attractions regularly share anonymous visitor data with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but during the pandemic they have also made personal information available to NHS Test and Trace.
Figures covering data collected from March 2020 to December 2021 – and the same period in 2018 and 2019 – show an increase in the volume of data collected by museums and galleries.
The public could normally enter the British Museum to view its permanent collections, but a new ticketing system introduced during the pandemic has led to the institution collecting 1.1million data entries from admission visitors general.