A series of articles in the Daily Mail accuse various universities, including UCL, of using wealth screening companies to target alumni for donations.
The Mail alleges that universities accessed and recorded private information for fundraising purposes, including details of former students’ finances and personal lives.
The Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO) at UCL admitted they had used wealth screening firms in the past to target alumni with a history of donations to human rights organisations when they were raising money for the Centre for Access to Justice.
This practice is legal if people whose data is shared are made aware of it. UCL claims that they updated their privacy notice and emailed all alumni for whom they have contact details when they began using wealth screening for fundraising.
The Mail used the personal experience of a UCL alumna and Mail journalist who had been contacted by the asking for money in 2013.
A freedom of information request revealed that her data had been shared with wealth screening firms, although the UCL privacy notice at the time reflected the fact that this was possible.
DARO claims to have since stopped using wealth screening firms altogether, and has no plans to resume the practice in the future.
The Mail also claimed that UCL had illegally solicited donations from people on the no-call TPS (Telephone Preference Service) register and had admitted to doing so.
Speaking to The Cheese Grater, a DARO spokesperson said that, at the time, official guidance was that organisations could call people on the TPS with whom they had a pre-existing relationship but they followed suit when guidance changed.
They also said that UCL has stopped calling alumni to solicit donations altogether.
UCL, despite a history of using wealth screening firms and calling alumni, appears to have acted legally and has consistently updated the privacy notice to keep up with official guidance.
DARO emphasised that they are committed to data protection and to building a life-long relationship with alumni rather than harassing them.
Sasha Baker, Katerina Edgar and Samantha Jackson
This article was published in CG Issue 59.