Tories planned to make millions from members’ data with ‘True Blue’ app

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Senior Conservative party officials were working on plans to transfer the entire membership database to a commercial company that promised to make tens of millions of pounds, the Guardian can reveal.

Leaked documents reveal Tory executives discussed exploiting members’ personal data to build a mobile phone app that could track users’ locations and allow major brands to advertise to Conservative supporters. The party would accept a decline in turnover.

The project was considered for several months last year, with the aim of launching the “True Blue” app in time for the party conference in October.

The idea was developed by the boss of a cryptocurrency company with a string of failed businesses behind him. Yet senior Conservative officials seemed so fascinated by the plan that they were willing to make the party’s database of members available to advance the proposal.

The True Blue project aimed to provide the party with direct access to its members to “incentivize donations” through digital payments, design “tailored messages” based on demographics, and “maximize” voter turnout by directing members to polling stations and a voter’s ID card.

However, it is the proposed commercialization of members’ data that will worry some party supporters. A presentation document – ​​illustrated with photographs by Rishi Sunak – outlined a plan that would see brands including Amazon and Coca-Cola advertise to party members. The presentation suggested that the app would allow companies to ‘geo-market’ products based on a user’s location, with the party taking a share of the resulting sales.

A Conservative spokesperson said the app “did not progress beyond the pitch stage”. But emails obtained by The Guardian show that officials worked on the project last summer, tweaking the content of the proposed app and requesting paperwork, including a draft contract.

Cori Crider, a lawyer who runs Foxglove, a non-profit organization that campaigns for fairness in the tech sector, said: “It’s actually quite sad to see the Conservative Party treating their own brand and membership as a failing asset that needs to be robbed and stripped for cash, as if it were some kind of vulture fund.”

‘The SuperApp’

The proposal for the app came from Christen Ager-Hanssen, a Norwegian businessman who said that “big data is the new oil”. He rose to prominence in the dotcom bubble of the early 2000s before going bankrupt. Further business setbacks followed, including the collapse of Swedish newspaper Metro and a failed bid for British media group Johnston Press.

On June 29 last year, Ager-Hanssen “had the pleasure of speaking to” Rishi Sunak, according to a after at X. That was the day of the summer party, one of the Tories’ big annual fundraising parties. The same day, Ager-Hanssen sent an email to Tory CEO Stephen Massey with the subject line: “The SuperApp for the Conservative Party.”

The party took action. Ager-Hanssen was invited to meet with the Chief Data Officer, Marking Director and Head of Digital to discuss the idea.

Two weeks later, Conservative Chief Operating Officer Aimee Henderson emailed Ager-Hanssen, telling him that she had reported to Massey that “our meeting this morning went well.”

She asked him to include existing Tory membership levels – “Disraeli Club” and “Churchill Club”, up to “Thatcher Club” – in the proposed app. On July 22, less than a month after first approaching the party, Ager-Hanssen told Henderson, “Per your input, I have just completed the latest version of the app.”

An attached presentation outlined a proposal, including ways for users to easily donate to the party. But it suggested the real money spinner would come from the commission of big brands paying the lot for sales to True Blue users. The profits would be split, with 25% going to Ager-Hanssen’s company, Addreax, and the rest to the Conservative Party.

The presentation showed that Addreax already had partnerships with brands such as Amazon, Coca-Cola and Apple. When contacted by The Guardian, none of these companies confirmed any relationship with Addreax or involvement in the True Blue project.

Based on figures described in the presentation as “for illustrative purposes only”, the party’s share of revenues could be estimated at £160 million a year, the party claimed. This seems like a very ambitious goal: the required 1.25 million users are more than seven times the party’s membership of 172,000. But even a fraction of this forecast would have increased the £47m the Tories raised in donations last year.

The project also proposed to offer a voter ID card to the app’s users. Civil liberties campaigners have said rules introduced in 2022 requiring voters to present government-issued IDs such as passports and driving licenses at polling stations risk disenfranchising marginalized groups. Any change that would benefit Tory members would likely reignite the controversy.

‘The next iteration’

“The changes and additions look great,” Henderson responded a day after receiving the presentation. She hoped for “a start date for the conference” and said she would show the plan to party directors: “I suspect this will create a lot of excitement!”

A draft, unsigned contract, seen by the Guardian, says the Conservatives would give Addreax access to “its database of potential and existing members”.

Work on the project continued throughout the summer. On August 22, Henderson sent an email to Ager-Hanssen, with a copy in the heads of marketing, commercial projects and voter communications. Party officials, she said, had been “working on branding and membership since our last meeting,” and she looked forward to “the next version of the product soon.”

Henderson added that to get board approval, we “very urgently” need drafts of a data-sharing agreement and other documents.

The Conservatives declined to say why the True Blue app was not launched. In late September, Ager-Hanssen was fired as CEO of the cryptocurrency company where he apparently told the Tories would play a role in the app.

The Guardian has seen no evidence of further True Blue discussions after this date. The Conservatives declined to answer questions about Ager-Hanssen’s business record.

Neither Ager-Hanssen nor Addreax responded to requests for comment.


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