A COUNCIL has come under fire for hosting tracking software on its benefits website.

A BBC investigation found two “cookies” from social media marketing firm Orlo on the benefits page of the Adur and Worthing councils website.

Cookies are small computer files which can track users’ browsing activity online.

Eliot Bendineli of pressure group Privacy International said the software was “open to control and manipulation”.

“These tools basically allow companies to have a good idea of who you are, where you live, what you’re interested in, what you’re doing this weekend or if you have any mental health issues, for example,” he said.

“When a company or a government has so much information about you, they can manipulate you.

“The risk is that there is no control. It’s just an open way for manipulation.”

An Adur and Worthing councils spokeswoman said the council had taken the cookies off its benefits page in November, a month after the BBC’s investigation.

It insisted it was using them to post and monitor social media.

But Worthing Borough Council opposition leader Beccy Cooper worried residents’ trust had been breached.

“People who visit these pages wanting to claim benefits should be able to do so without any fear of being tracked,” Cllr Cooper said.

“To reassure residents who may have used the pages, or might in the future, we need a clear explanation of what these cookies were collecting and for what purpose.

“If the cookies were being used to improve web services, it seems odd that they were removed.

“If they were being used to advertise, we need to know what services were being advertised.”

Cllr Cooper also raised concerns users of the councils’ benefits page were not asked for permission to be tracked by cookie software.

Simon McDougall of the Information Commissioner’s Office, the web privacy watchdog, said it would look into the BBC’s findings.

“This investigation by the BBC further highlights our concerns about the lack of transparency and consent when ad-tech is used,” he said.

“While the office is keen to promote innovative uses of technology, that cannot be at the expense of people’s fundamental legal rights.

“We will be assessing the information provided by the BBC.”

An Adur and Worthing Councils spokeswoman said: "We do not have advertising cookies on our benefits page or the website as a whole."

A Local Government Association spokesman said councils “take legal compliance seriously”.

“We are looking into their use of cookies,” he said.