Last week we highlighted confidentiality of consumer information and the role of Data Bureau Ltd (DBL). This week we focus more on the operations of DBL.
Data Bureau Ltd is a duly registered company in Fiji, which under its articles, is involved in sharing private information on its members' clients with each other and with other entities in Fiji. Given that hire-purchase consumers sign contracts which allow their private information to be shared by DBL, this part of the activity of Data Bureau Ltd is within the law.
The existence and operation of DBL however is debatable. The report on "The Hire Purchase Industry in Fiji" has come out strongly against the operation of DBL. It is a concern since it gives no protection to one's right to privacy of credit information.
In Fiji, apart from financial institutions and hire-purchase (HP) companies, government and statutory bodies such as Fiji Electricity Authority, Water Authority of Fiji, Fiji Development Bank and the Municipal Councils are also members of the Data Bureau.
It is also a concern that Data Bureau is not liable if its members wrongly uploaded consumers' name on Data Bureau. A disclaimer is inserted on the Consumer Search Report which states as follows:
'Information contained in this report has been supplied to Data Bureau Limited by Third Parties. Data Bureau Limited makes no warranty as to the accuracy of the information provided or the credit-worthiness of the subject. Data Bureau Limited furthermore accepts no liability for incorrect information. Alleged defaults and/or judgments and/or other information may be disputed, subsequently settled or set aside.'
The business of exchange of credit histories and personal information of consumers is not restricted, that is, anyone can set up such a business which entails the exchange of sensitive personal information.
While the credit providers are gaining from this service, the consumers are kept in the dark. According to the Hire Purchase Report, 60 per cent of HP consumers in Fiji did not know that their financial records could be listed on the Data Bureau Limited. 62 per cent did not know that their credit information could be provided to others.
And 60 per cent did not know that the HP company could seek their personal information from other businesses or sources. A majority of HP consumers, either don't read the terms of the contract, or don't understand the terms of the contract before they sign the HP contract. It is more likely that the credit providers do not advise consumers of these conditions in the credit contract in a language that the consumers are able to understand.
Next week: stakeholder reaction on DBL operation