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

Senior Conservative party officials worked on plans to hand over its entire membership database for a commercial venture that promised to make tens of millions of pounds, the Guardian can reveal.

Leaked documents show Tory executives discussed exploiting members’ personal data to build a mobile phone app that could track users’ locations and allow big brands to advertise to Conservative supporters. The party would take a cut of sales.

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

The idea was developed by the boss of a cryptocurrency firm with a string of failed businesses behind him. Yet senior Conservative officials appeared so captivated by the plan that they prepared to provide the party’s database of members in order to move the proposal forward.

The app’s proposed features included verified voter ID, according to the presentation document

The True Blue project aimed to provide the party with direct access to its members in order to “boost donations” through digital payments, design “bespoke messaging” based on demographics, and “maximise” voter turnout by directing members to polling stations and issuing a voter identity card.

However, it is the proposed commercialisation of members’ data that will be concerning to some party supporters. A presentation document – illustrated with pictures of Rishi Sunak – outlined a plan whereby brands such as Amazon and Coca-Cola could advertise to party members. The presentation suggested the app would let companies “geo-market” products based on a user’s location, with the party taking a share of any resulting sales.

A Conservative spokesperson said the app “did not progress beyond the pitch stage”. But emails seen by the Guardian reveal officials worked through last summer on the project, tailoring the proposed app’s content and requesting paperwork, including a draft contract.

Cori Crider, a lawyer who runs Foxglove, a non-profit group campaigning for fairness in the tech sector, said: “It’s rather sad, really, to see the Conservative party treating their own brand and membership like a failing asset to be raided and stripped for cash as if they were some kind of vulture fund.”

Offers from local businesses could be redeemed in-store with the party ID card, the presentation suggested

‘The SuperApp’

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

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

Christen Ager-Hanssen, seen here in April 2019, proposed ‘the SuperApp’ and was invited to meet the Conservatives’ chief data officer and others for discussion. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

The party sprang into action. Ager-Hanssen was invited to meet the chief data officer, marking director and head of digital to discuss the idea.

Two weeks later, Aimee Henderson, the Conservatives’ chief operating officer, emailed Ager-Hanssen, telling him she had reported back to Massey that “our meeting this morning went well”.

She asked him to incorporate the existing Tory membership tiers – “Disraeli Club” and “Churchill Club”, up to “Thatcher Club” – into the proposed app. On 22 July, less than a month after first approaching the party, Ager-Hanssen told Henderson: “I just finished the latest version of the app according to your input.”

An attached presentation outlined a proposal, including ways that users would be able to donate easily to the party. But it suggested the real money-spinner would come from the commission that big brands would pay the party on sales to True Blue users. Profits were to be split, with 25% going to Ager-Hanssen’s company, Addreax, and the rest going to the Conservative party.

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

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Marketing channels with ‘brand partners’ were suggested

Using figures the presentation labelled as “for illustrative purposes only”, the party’s share of revenue could reach an estimated £160m a year, it claimed. This seems a highly ambitious target: the 1.25 million users required is more than seven times the party’s membership of 172,000. But even a fraction of this projection would have boosted the £47m the Tories raised in donations last year.

The project also proposed providing a voter ID card for the app’s users. Civil liberties campaigners have said rules introduced in 2022 requiring voters to produce government-issued identification, such as passports and driving licences, at polling stations risks disenfranchising marginalised groups. Any change that would benefit Tory members would be likely to renew controversy.

‘The next iteration’

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

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

The app was intended for the party to ‘increase their relevance in all voter demographics’

Work on the project continued through the summer. On 22 August, Henderson emailed Ager-Hanssen, copying in the heads of marketing, commercial projects and voter communication. Party officials, she said, had been “working … on branding and membership since our last meeting”, and she was looking forward to “the next iteration of the product soon”.

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

The Conservatives declined to say why the True Blue app was not launched. At the end of September, Ager-Hanssen was fired as the chief executive of the cryptocurrency company that he appears to have 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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