Austria’s Postal Service has been fined EUR 18 million (20 million dollars) for working out information on the political allegiances of its customers, said the Ministry of Justice on Tuesday.
In January, Austrian Post stated that a database of about 2,2 million customers ‘ likely political affinities would be deleted after privacy campaigners had likened the practice to the Facebook data sharing scandal.
After finding that Austrian Post violated data protection regulations, the Austrian Data Protection Authority has decided the 18-million-euro administrative penalty, said the Minister of Justice in a press release.
The Austrian Post, publicly listed but still government-owned by a majority, will appeal the decision.
In January, Austrian Post reported that it would restructure its entire database “along new lines.”
Around three million Austrians, or around one third of the population, have compiled Austrian Post names, addresses, age and gender and regularly sell that information to advertisers as part of their direct mail business.
The division generates an annual revenue for the company of approximately EUR 200 million ($230 million).
Privacy activists took arms when it became clear that Austrian Post was also informed about its customers ‘ political affinities and selling this information to political parties.
Epicenter Works, the privacy campaign group, argued that this breached EU rules on data protection. VKI also raised questions about the legality of the practice.
The Austrian Post has argued that the conclusions have been based on opinion polls and voting figures in certain geographical regions, in the same way that after elections exit polls are measured.
It stated that the data cannot be extrapolated to reveal the voting behavior of individuals.
Campaigners also made parallels to the series of data protection and privacy scandals which have targeted Facebook, the largest social network in the world after user data in a number of countries was stolen in the 2016 US election campaign.