Monday, June 5, 2023

A legal hole opens the personal data of thousands of freelancers to the public

Alba Sierra found herself on Google one day. To his surprise, he noticed that one of the first entries in the search engine offered the option to “consult your CIF, address and telephone number”. He clicked on the link and entered a business information portal. There was also his ID, postal code, personal address, telephone number and email as well as a comment about his financial solvency. Your data was available to all. And there they really are. Anyone who knows his name can report to his home or call him.

Alba Sierra is the fictitious name of a freelance worker (she’s a graphic designer) very careful of her digital trail and jealous of her privacy. Therefore, he was very surprised to see that this information, which he tries never to share, is publicly accessible. He began his investigation as part of a postgraduate project on technopolitics and law in the digital age at the University of Barcelona. This was the seed of a report completed by Xnet, an activist organization to protect digital rights. Their conclusion: There is a systematic risk of self-employed workers’ personal data being commercialized without their knowledge. And the categories most affected are some of the lowest income.

The Xnet team had a meeting with the Spanish Agency for Data Protection (AEPD) a few weeks ago, in which they told them about the investigation they were developing. The agency is now waiting to receive the full report, which the organization will present as a projection this week. AEPD sources say that after studying it, “it will be analyzed to see how the issue should be addressed”.

How does such intimate information about people become so obvious? The data journey begins from the time a person registers as a freelancer. To do this, you must register with the tax agency’s Census of Economic Activities, which requires providing your name, ID, telephone number, email and address, etc. who work at home, either voluntarily or because they cannot afford an office or working togetherThey have to give their address and personal number. Therefore, Xnet confirms that low-income self-employed are more exposed than others.

The Treasury then transfers this data to the Chambers of Commerce, which prepares a public census of companies and turns it into a directory prepared by CamarData, a company the chambers rely on. There you can consult and buy data from Spanish companies to “do commercial operations”, identify new customers, etc. There are self-employed companies, so they are also included in that database.

Some specialized search engines, such as Informa or Accessor, buy these databases, process them and offer them to their customers. This is one of the platforms where Alba Sierra found his address and ID. The first consultation is usually free, but you will have to pay for the others. The price ranges from 9 to 40 euros. This is the cost of getting the personal information of freelancers working at home.

Exposure of personal data is not illegal (self-employed workers are required to notify an address), but has the opposite consequences: by being self-employed, some individuals’ private information is visible to anyone.

How many people are in this situation? Xnet has calculated that approximately one million people with an income equal to or less than 1,000 euros per month have the option of searching their personal data on the Internet. This is a guess. The researchers worked with databases from Einforma and Axesor, the two main business information platforms, and came up with an estimate of just how many freelancers are on file: about 1.4 million. The Income filter skips the million figure. What isn’t known is how many of those people have a personal address registered as a workplace (and therefore are on the public radar).

They noticed that in some activities or headings of self-employment, the number of records exceeds the number of self-employed registered on the platform, according to INE. “This is because, sometimes, platforms continue to offer data to freelancers who have already unsubscribed,” explains Simona Levy, founder and director of Exnet and coordinator of the report.

Right to Privacy and Information

Personal data of many freelancers, among other things, is available on the Internet, because they can be. “Companies like Axesor or Einforma do not commit any illegality: their activity is protected by European regulations and Spanish law on the re-use of public sector data,” says Borja Adsuara, a lawyer and expert consultant in digital law. Many of these companies are represented in the multisector information association, ASD, which was awarded by the AEPD in 2018 for “good practices in protecting privacy and personal data”.

Levy believes that the marketing of this data is not in accordance with the law. “We believe the law is being broken because when you give your data to the Treasury you are not informed that they are going to the Chamber of Commerce and they will end up in consulting firms. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) ) obliges the affected party to disclose what their data is being used for,” stresses the activist.

The ease of obtaining data from individuals stands in stark contrast to the growing barriers to finding information from other companies. The Court of Justice of the European Union recently ruled that public access to company ownership records “interferes with fundamental rights”, respect for private life and the protection of personal data, issues that violate the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. are guaranteed. “The comparison between the CJEU’s decision and the immediate reaction of many countries, which have closed their records, and how exposed data from low-income people is, is shocking,” says Levy.

Xnet proposes a series of legislative amendments to prevent self-employed data from being exposed. It also requests that self-employed workers with incomes below 3.5 times the public indicator of multimillion income or iPrem (around 2,000 euros gross), those of whom it is believed cannot afford an office, receive It is not forced to use for such purpose, your home address.

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