HomeNEWSPrivacy Commissioner says prepare for personal information requests

Privacy Commissioner says prepare for personal information requests

Voltaire, or possibly Spider-Man, said it first: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This essential truth is becoming more and more relevant to retailers as customers’ access to data collected about their movements and purchases, and the importance of storing that data securely, comes under the public spotlight.

Next week, Privacy Commissioner John Edwards will launch a new online tool called AboutMe, which makes it easier for individuals to ask companies for their personal information. The tool uses email templates to provide all the necessary details, giving these requests a level of standardisation.

Edwards says AboutMe will be particularly helpful for organisations such as small businesses which may not have existing procedures for responding to information requests.

“Roughly 60 percent of the complaints we receive each year have to do with access to personal information,” Edwards says. “We hope to reduce that number by making people aware of this component of the Privacy Act and making it easier for them to assert their right to see their own information.”

Privacy concerns around retailers’ retaining customer data came to the fore in March as Dick Smith’s receivers Ferrier Hodgson sought to sell its intellectual property. The sale of Dick Smith’s databases touched a nerve with the public, who sent Edwards’ office what he described as “a stream of enquiries”.

At the Retail Australasia Summit last year, James Page from Intergen-owned Dynamics Solutions explored some of the possibilities available to retailers wishing to let customer data guide their strategic decisions. He spoke of using free wifi to track customer movements within the store; movement-tracking software which could detect customers’ emotions during the buying process; and heat tracking to show dwell times within stores.

He also had a word of caution: “Customers will vote with their wallet if we get this wrong, if we get too intrusive.”

It’s also worth recalling large-scale customer data security breaches can and have happened. US retailers Target, Home Depot, T.J. Maxx parent company TJX, JCPenney and eBay have all been hit with significant attacks. National cyber policy office director Paul Ash has repeatedly warned Kiwi retailers of their responsibility in guarding customers’ data, especially their credit card details.

AboutMe’s launch on May 12 will be marked by the first ‘Right to Know Day’ to highlight New Zealanders’ right to see their information. In turn, Right to Know Day is part of Privacy Week, which involves privacy forums in Auckland and Wellington; technology and privacy forums; and the release of further information about privacy and public attitudes to it.

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