Sharing of data puts UAE consumers under siege

When you open a new bank account or sign up for a credit card, your bank can collect a mass of data about you. But stopping your bank from sharing this information is not easy.

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Wesley Schwalje, the chief operating officer at Tahseen Consulting, says UAE law does not specify whether financial institutions should tell consumers how they share their data.

Nor does it give you the right to opt out of sharing your private data for telephone, SMS, direct mail and email marketing purposes.

Online data sharing privacy policies vary greatly according to the institution, he says. “Practices are commonly buried in 50-plus pages of terms and conditions, while several institutions fail to translate their online privacy policies into Arabic.”

In a recent study, Tahseen Consulting found that only three of the UAE’s 10 largest banks allowed consumers to opt out of sharing personal information for marketing. “And even these institutions failed to offer clear processes on how consumers could opt out,” say Mr Schwalje.

Most UAE banks don’t give the right to opt out of sharing your personal information with affiliates, companies related by common ownership or third parties, Mr Schwalje adds. “So if a large bank has affiliated subsidiaries that offer private banking, financial management or insurance, all of your information can be freely shared for cross-selling services.”

Many even share your data with companies outside the UAE.

“They generally make holding an account contingent upon agreeing to share your personal information for marketing purposes. The only way you can avoid this is to cease to be a customer,” says Mr Schwalje.

When you apply for a new account or financial product, banks collect a mass of data including your postal and email address, phone numbers, employment, financial status, credit history and update this when you apply for services such as funds transfers and loans.

Mr Schwalje says he would like to see the UAE authorities demand mandated, standardised annual privacy disclosures in both English and Arabic that would clearly set out what data the banks collect, how they collect it, who they share it with and explain consumer opt-out rights.

He would also like to see the UAE authorities introduce mandated annual privacy disclosures, order that data must be collected for specified, explicit purposes and enact federal laws to compel financial institutions to implement simple opt-out processes.

People should also be given the right to review all disclosed information, correct inaccurate or incomplete data, and seek redress if they feel their rights have been violated, Mr Schwalje adds.

Until that happens, the cold calls will keep on coming.

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