REVEALED: The Metropolitan Police shared sensitive information about crime victims with Facebook. Metropolitan Police


Britain’s biggest police force has collected sensitive data about people who use its website to report sex crimes, domestic violence and other crimes and shared it with Facebook for targeted ads. Observer have got .

The data was collected through a tracking tool hosted on the Metropolitan Police’s website and records of people’s browsing activity for victims and witnesses who used a “secure” online form to report offences.

In one case, Facebook obtained some information when someone clicked on a link to “report rape or sexual assault securely and confidentially” to the Met online. This includes the sexual nature of the crime, the time the page was viewed, and a code that identifies the person’s Facebook account ID.

The tracking tool, known as MetaPixels, also sent details to Facebook about the content and buttons viewed on websites ranging from contacting police, accessing victim services, and advice pages, including rape, assault, stalking and fraud.

Met Police Website Under The Heading: How To Report Rape And Sexual Assault.
Among the browsing activity sent to Facebook by the Met Police website was content about reporting sex crimes.

When faced with Observers Last week’s findings led Met to remove the Meta Pixel tracker from its website. It said it took such cases “seriously” and was investigating, adding that no personal information “entered” by people reporting crimes – such as actual messages they sent to police – was shared.

He suggested the leak was accidental and that he had installed the tracking device to help serve ads to people “interested in careers at the Met”. He added: “A meta pixel was placed on the Met website in June 2023 in connection with a recruitment marketing campaign and we are taking steps to remove pixels from any non-recruitment sites to avoid unnecessary risk.”

The use of pixels in Met by A Observer An analysis of police websites in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Last week’s test found four police forces using the device, including the Met. The others were Police Scotland, Norfolk Constabulary and Suffolk Constabulary.

Like the Met, Norfolk and Suffolk have been found to have shared information about people accessing sensitive websites. This includes website visitors clicking on links to report anti-social behaviour, domestic violence, rape, hate crime and corruption, as well as clicking to view a page entitled “Tell us something anonymously”. In a joint statement, Norfolk and Suffolk police said they were using the tracking devices for “recruitment purposes”. “However, recognizing the wider implications, we have taken immediate steps to … remove the associated Meta Pixel,” the spokesperson said.

Suffolk Constabulary Website Under The Heading: Tell Us Something Anonymously.
Suffolk Constabulary has shared information about people accessing its sensitive websites.

Victims’ charities and privacy experts say the sharing of information is a “shocking breach of trust” that undermines trust in the police. Former victims’ commissioner Dame Vera Baird said: “You think you’re dealing with a public authority you trust and you’re dealing with Facebook and the wild world of advertising.”

Online privacy researcher Mark Richards says that using ad pixels in this context is “like asking a stranger to report a crime while in the room.”

Professor David Leslie, director of ethics at the Alan Turing Institute, said data sharing appeared to be “careless” and that people were given “partial” or “misleading” information about how their web browsing data was being used. “The expectation of people who go to police stations is that their information is protected and not shared with any third-party providers,” he said. “It just doesn’t have to be.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK’s data privacy watchdog, said the findings raised “real privacy concerns”.

“These sites target crime victims and witnesses, who expect their information to be handled with particular care,” he said. It is already investigating the use of meta pixels in NHS Trusts websites and said it will consider the latest evidence.

The Meta Pixel – a free tool provided by Facebook – is widely used by businesses looking to track visitors to their website in future marketing campaigns.

Skip past newsletter promotion

The tool — which collects data about people with and without Facebook accounts — is designed by Facebook as a way for organizations to gain “rich insights” into website performance and user behavior.

Facebook’s parent company Meta uses the data sent to it by pixels for its own business purposes, including improving the targeted advertising products it offers to other customers. In a statement, the company says it uses data collected by pixels to improve user experience, such as by showing “ads you may be interested in.” “If you visit travel websites, you may see advertisements for hotel deals,” he says.

While MetaPixel collects details of unique identifiers such as a person’s IP address and Facebook profile ID, there is no suggestion that the company is trying to identify people as victims of crime or target them with ads based on the victim. or witness status. There is also no suggestion that the information shared with the company includes details of interactions with the police beyond clicked buttons and web pages.

Also sharing data with Facebook, the Observers Many police websites were found to be sharing data with Google for advertising purposes. This includes the fact that someone has visited a police website, but does not appear to include more detailed information about using sensitive websites or online reporting tools. At least two police forces are also understood to have shared information with Twitter for publicity. Digital privacy expert Steph Elliott, who focuses on ICOs and reported on the Google ad issue to the Guardian earlier this month, described the problems as “systematic”.

In most cases, police websites – including the Met’s website – started sharing data after the website user clicked “I agree” after being shown a pop-up consent banner. The banner typically says, “We use cookies on this site to give you a better, more personalized experience,” but it doesn’t mention advertising or share information with third parties like Facebook. Some privacy policies, including the Met’s, mention advertising but say the data collected is used for recruitment campaigns, and does not say it is collected from sensitive websites or used by third parties for their own commercial purposes.

A Website Titled 'Sexual Developmental Disorders'
The Observer previously revealed how 20 NHS trusts share meta-pixel data with Facebook. They include Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, which shares browsing details on websites related to sexual development disorders.

Refuge, a charity that supports victims of domestic abuse, said reporting crime takes time and bravery and was concerned by claims that the police had “breached their authority by passing on information for publicity purposes”. “This practice must stop,” the charity said.

An Observer An investigation in May revealed that the MetaPixel tracking tool was used on the websites of 20 NHS trusts in England, sharing browsing data with Facebook related to medical conditions, appointments and medication requests. In one case, an NHS trust told Facebook that a user was looking at a guide to HIV drugs. After warning that the tracking device was on their website, the believers removed it. Seven mental health charities were also found using the tracking tool.

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, says it doesn’t want to receive sensitive data on MetaPixels and has policies against it. It says: “We make it clear in our policies that advertisers should not send sensitive information about people through our business tools.” Doing so is against our policy and we educate advertisers… to prevent this from happening. It says the system is designed to filter “any sensitive information it can find”.

We offer you some site tools and assistance to get the best result in daily life by taking advantage of simple experiences