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Your habits are of interest to large corporates

By JAMES COAKES Published 17th Jul 2013
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It’s nothing new, but there does seem to be a worrying increase in examples of companies taking the information we provide them with and selling it on to other organisations. Whether it be looking at our shopping habits or how we use apps on our phones, the feeling that Big Brother is watching our every move can be unsettling.

Barclays is the latest organisation to announce that it plans to sell transaction information. They have said they will be writing to all customers to explain that the information being sold will be in the form of reports about consumer spending habits. These reports will then be used by third party companies as well as Government departments to spot trends and tailor offerings in the future. Barclays have gone on record to say that the reports are purely statistical and there is no information being sold that can identify particular individuals or accounts and data is definitely not being sold as leads to sales organisations.

But when did it become acceptable to use the information that we provide as an additional sales stream? Surely these companies are supposed to be providing us with a service – we are their clients not a potential new line of revenue. The real issue seems to be the lack of permission given in these situations – the companies doing it seem to think that by telling us what they are doing that that is enough.

Tesco was arguably one of the first to go down this route with their selling of data gained through the Clubcard reward programme – passing on information to Dunnhumby, its data subsidiary which, in the year 2011 to 2012, made a reported £60 million. More recently the mobile networks of O2, Vodaphone and EE announced “Weve”, a joint venture that will see them selling information to corporate clients.

Perhaps the single most important point to remember in this debate is that an organisation cannot sell on your information without an explicit consent from the data provider – if it doesn’t have this all they can do is pass on anonymous information. So what’s the use to the companies buying it? Well in the case of mobile phone information it can mean that marketers and advertisers can tailor products and ads on mobile internet sites and apps to gain more business.

However, the data protection tide may be starting to turn. In December this year a new Consumer Rights Directive will be introduced which aims to strengthen consumer rights including banning the prevalent pre-ticked consent boxes which can lead to an avalanche of junk mail. Along with this the EU is also looking at ways to further increase data protection laws.

So, should we be worried? Personalised junk communication seems to be being clamped down on while anonymous 'Big Data' style information is on the increase.


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261 weeks ago, by John
I think we should be worried about large corporates and governments mishandling personal data, of which the have been several examples in recent years, not to mention the activities of agencies like NSA and GCHQ.

Aggregated data on the other hand shouldn't betray personal privacies so much less of a worry.

An argument could be made for its potential to improve and spread the understanding of trends allowing corporates to deliver products and services closer to what we want, more cheaply.

There is of course the counter argument that information is more likely to be used for exploitative purposes.
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