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A legal loophole opens the personal data of tens of thousands of freelancers to the public technology



Alba Sierra googled itself one day. To his surprise, he saw that one of the first entries in the search engine offered the option “CIF Consultation, Address and Phone Number”. He clicked on the link and entered the business information portal. There was his ID, postal code, personal address, telephone number, and e-mail, as well as a comment about his economic solvency. Your data is publicly available. And they are there, in fact. Anyone who knows her name can report to her home or call her.

Alba Sierra is the fictitious name of a freelancer (she is a graphic designer) who is very keen on her digital path and jealous of her privacy. Hence, he was very surprised to see this information, which he tries never to share, available to the public. The investigation began as part of a postgraduate project on tech policy and law in the digital age at the University of Barcelona. This was the seed of a report completed by Xnet, a digital rights activist organisation. Their conclusions: There is systematic exposure to the personal data of the self-employed, which is being marketed without even their knowledge. The groups most affected are low-income people.

The Xnet team had a meeting with the Spanish Agency for Data Protection (AEPD) a few weeks ago, informing them of the investigation they were developing. The agency is now waiting to receive the full report that the organization will submit to it this week in the form of an interrogation. After studying it, it will be “analyzed to see how to address the problem,” according to AEPD sources.

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How does such intimate information about people become so visible? The data journey begins from the moment someone signs up as a freelancer. To do this, you must register with the IRS’s Census of Economic Activities, which requires providing your name, identity, phone number, email, and address, among other things. Those who work at home, either voluntarily or because they cannot afford an office or joint workThey must give their address and personal number. Hence, Xnet confirmed that low-income self-employed workers are more exposed than others.

The Treasury Department then passes this data to the Chambers of Commerce, which compiles a general census of the companies and turns it into a directory prepared by CameraData, a company that relies on the chambers. There you can consult and buy data from Spanish companies to “carry out business actions”, identify new customers, and so on. Self-employed are businesses, so they are also included in this database.

Some specialized search engines, such as Einforma or Axesor, buy these databases, process them and offer them to their customers. Alba Sierra found her address and ID on one of those platforms. The first consultations are usually free, but for the rest you have to pay. The price varies between 9 and 40 euros. This is the cost of obtaining the personal information of freelancers who work at home.

Disclosure of personal data is not illegal (self-employed are required to notify the address), but it has serious consequences: by being self-employed, some individuals have their private information visible to anyone.

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How many people are in this situation? Xnet calculates that about 1 million people with an income equal to or less than 1,000 euros per month have options to find their personal data on the Internet. It’s an estimate. The researchers worked with databases from Einforma and Axesor, two major business intelligence platforms, and came up with a rough number for how many freelancers they have: about 1.4 million. Income filter leaves a million number. What can’t be known is how many of their personal addresses are registered as a place of business (and thus on public radar).

They’ve seen that in some activities or titles of self-employed people, the number of records the platforms overtake the number of registered freelancers, according to INE. “This is because, sometimes, platforms keep offering data from freelancers who have already unsubscribed,” explains Simona Levy, founder and director of Xnet and coordinator of the report.

Privacy and the right to information

The personal data of many freelancers is available on the Internet, among other things, because they can be. “Companies like Axesor or Einforma do not commit any legality: their activity is protected by European regulations and Spanish law on the reuse of public sector data,” says Borja Adsuara, an expert lawyer and consultant in digital law. Many of these companies are represented on the cross-sectoral information association, Asedie, which was awarded in 2018 by the AEPD itself “for its good practices in privacy and protection of personal data.”

Levy believes that the marketing of this data is not in compliance with the law. “We believe the law has been broken because when you provide your data to the Treasury Department, you are not informed that they will go to the Chamber of Commerce and that they will end up in consulting firms. GDPR obliges the affected party to tell what their data will be used for,” the activist stresses. his term.

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The ease of obtaining data from individuals contrasts with the growing hurdles surrounding obtaining information from other companies. The European Union’s Court of Justice recently ruled that public access to a company’s ownership records presupposes “interference with fundamental rights”, respect for private life and protection of personal data, issues guaranteed by the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. “The comparison between the CJEU ruling and the immediate reaction of many countries, which have closed their records, and how data of those who work on low incomes are being exposed for years, is shocking,” says Levy.

Xnet proposes a series of legislative amendments to prevent the disclosure of self-employed data. It also demands that self-employed people with incomes less than 3.5 times the General Multiple Effects Income Index or Iprem (around €2,000 gross), and who presumably cannot afford an office, are not compelled to use that office. purposes, your home address.

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