UK-facing gambling operators have been able to access an educational database that contains the names, ages, and addresses of more than 28 million children and students, an investigation by the Sunday Times can reveal.
The news outlet dubbed its findings one of the biggest breaches of government data.
Under privacy rules, information contained in the database, known as the Learning Records Service, should be used strictly for educational purposes. However, it seems that a number of different business organizations, including betting and real-money gaming companies, have been provided with access to that information.
It is believed that gambling companies have been able to use the database to grow their young customers base.
The Sunday Times confronted the UK Department for Education with its findings, to which the government agency responded by disabling the database and referring the data breach to the Information Commissioner’s Office, the body responsible for the regulation of data protection.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson promised that the Education Department would “leave no stone unturned” in its investigation into the matter.
How Did Betting Companies Gain Access to Students’ Data?
The Department for Education said it has not authorized the provision of data to gambling operators. The companies have gained access to the sensitive information via a third-party data company.
According to the Sunday Times, GB Group, a major UK data intelligence company, had a confidential contract through another company to access the Learning Records Service. The data was found to have been used by gambling companies to verify the identity and age of young people trying to open accounts with such firms and whether they are of legal age to gamble.
It is believed that an unidentified gambling operator was able to boost the number of young people passing its identity and age checks by 15% by using the Learning Records Service.
GB Group says on its official website that the data provided is “accessible in real time, refreshed nightly and updated in line with annual exam results and other key moments.” The company explained that its services did not involve divulging sensitive data and that its software only checked dates of birth and addresses and provided a response on whether there was a matching identity.
The Department for Education told the Sunday Times that it had provided access to the database to Trust Systems Software (UK), a London-based employment screening firm that trades under the name Trustopia.
The department said that it is investigating whether Trustopia had provided access to Learning Records Service data to GB Group. Trustopia founder Ronan Smith said that his company had not provided access to students’ data to GB Group.
The Department for Education said that following the Sunday Times’ discoveries, they have immediately stopped Trustopia’s access to the Learning Records Service and ended their agreement with them.
News about gambling operators using students’ data emerge amid ongoing pressure on the industry for not doing enough to prevent underage and vulnerable people from gambling.