It’s been reported that Germany’s biggest credit agency is planning to trawl its customers’ social network accounts to gather information to help them credit check and identify ‘opportunities’. But could it happen here?
Surely it can’t be right that firms such as Schufa in Germany will be able to use information posted on social networks as part of the checks they run on people who want to purchase goods or services from other companies? It’s certainly not something I’d willingly consent to.
I think we’re potentially one step away from UK firms following suit. And I wouldn’t be impressed if it led to firms developing strategies to use our social networking information for their own means. That’s not what I signed up for.
Will the UK follow suit?
Should Schufa’s lead be followed in the UK, it could cause all sorts of privacy law problems. While you may agree that consumers generally expect their information to be shared between banks and credit reference agencies, it’s a different proposition altogether when you find out that your Facebook profile could be used to influence decisions on whether you’ll be offered credit or not.
Your photos, posts, likes and dislikes are arguably unreliable, irrelevant and definitely not uploaded with the expectation of such uses. On my reading of the Data Protection Act, I’d say this proposition is ‘prejudicial to the rights and freedoms or legitimate interests of the individual’. Admittedly, it’s difficult to provide a definitive answer, given the fact that the law on this point is not crystal clear.
Big Brother is bothering you
Germany’s consumer protection minister, Ilse Aigner, is so concerned that she has said the practices being planned by Schufa are akin to something you’d expect from a Big Brother state. On the other hand, businesses will probably argue that the information they’re sifting though is publicly available, so they’re doing nothing wrong.
But this seems to be an argument based on the fact that privacy laws are always playing catch-up to fast developing technologies. It seems we may live in an age of surveillance, which might be leading us to develop paranoid tendencies. But until it’s made clear how companies can use our information and what they can use it for, maybe we should all put a bit more thought into the information we post online and the privacy controls we use.