2005-11-27

Privacy and Fly Buys

Image hosted by Photobucket.comIn Australia, like elsewhere, there exists a system where you get "rewarded" for using credit or buying at certain retailers. Usually this consists of gaining points for money spent using a particular credit card and/or dealing with specific companies who participate in these programs. Sounds reasonable. As long as you don't change your purchasing habits (ie: spend more) then you seem to be getting part of the profit back. Some of these programs will also keep track of exactly what you are buying and when for marketing use. When I signed up for "Fly Buys" I was very dubious of the system. However I was assured that this information is kept confidential and that my specific information was to never be given to anyone. Over the years I have cashed in my points and enjoyed some free accomodation in excellent hotels, and many free movie tickets. Nice.

However, the is changing. As of 2006, the big corporations want the information that was collected by the Fly Buys company. They will also be able to disclose this information
"within their corporate groups (and to their service providers)".
That is just scary; how many companies belong to the "corporate groups"? What the hell is a service provider?

The notification of these changes were sent to me along with all the other pieces of junk paper that this program regularly seems to send out. I usually toss it all in the bin without looking. As would most people, I'm sure. However the leaflet "Important news about your privacy" caught my eye and the alarm bells went off. After careful reading, it seemed that I could tell them not to share my information and everything would be OK. However, I checked the policy on the flybuys website which states:
"If you do not wish to be bound by these changes, you can withdraw from FlyBuys."
If you don't like the changes then you're out. Fine by me. Just to confuse things the next paragraph says
"You can, at any time, tell us not to disclose your name to Coles Myer Ltd (and its group companies) or National Australia Bank Limited (and its group companies). You can do this by writing to us or by calling 13 1116."
So I called the number and, when I finally got through, I told them that I don't want anyone getting my details ever, and the lovely lady confirmed that this would indeed be the case. What of the people who are just now joining up - do they have the option to opt out? What of the hoardes that don't do this?

This change in policy is major. However a leaflet in a bunch of junk mail, and a privacy policy buried deep in their website shows that the company is doing the bare minimum to ensure you are informed in the hopes of taking advantage of consumer inertia. You are subject to the changes if you don't say anything. I hate that. If there are any changes then you should be required to sign the new policy. THEN you would see the front page of their crappy magazine and web site covered with SIGN HERE NOW type things. Our governments should be making this law: no changes to contracts unless you specifically sign up, no automatic contract changes.

I know that people are usually willing to sell their privacy to the corporations for a few movie tickets a year, unaware of the issues that can rise from access to your data. Just like we so easily give up freedom and hand the law extreme powers to be safe from exceedingly rare acts of terrorism. One of the real problems is that the issues around privacy are complex and the adverse affects of having your data spread around the corporations is not immediately obvious. People far too often don't care who does what with their information. Disasters can happen when people examine information and make incorrect conclusions then things can really go wrong, especially if other facts are forced to fit by authorities that we are supposed to trust with information. There are issues of unauthorised access to a database that may cause problems. Then there are also issues where the database holder proves that they are untrustworthy, often sharing or selling your details without permission.

The way the cunning company avoids trouble is exactly what Fly Buys are doing now. A company makes changes to their privacy policy and hope that people don't take too much notice.

For me, this new policy changes everything. I don't trust them. Game over, I'm out.

No comments: