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AIB backtracks over moves to spy on customer social media accounts

Common sense is in short supply in the banking sector, writes Personal Finance Editor Charlie Weston


AIB insisted it never intended to analyse individual social media accounts

AIB insisted it never intended to analyse individual social media accounts

AIB insisted it never intended to analyse individual social media accounts

Banks operate in a bubble. For this reason they would be well advised, when they intend to announce something or change some aspect of their operations, to test it in advance to see how it is likely to go down in the real world.

A good tester would need cop-on, and a keen sense of social justice, along with a dose of cynicism.

These are qualities that are in short supply in banks.

Such a person would have flagged up the stench being generated by the ongoing mess that is the tracker fraud.

Whether or not banks would have acted on this is another matter.

However, if even some of the warnings were heeded the final bill for the tracker scandal may not have topped €1bn.

AIB would also have been warned by the Cop-On Tester that its recent ill-timed attempt to bring back banker bonuses was doomed to failure.

And any sensible person looking at AIB Group's ham-fisted attempts to snoop on individual customer social media accounts would have seen the dangers a mile off.

But bankers exist in their own little self-congratulatory world.

That is why AIB, the largest mortgage lender in the State, has ended up being accused of playing Big Brother with its customers after it emerged it had been seeking to spy on customers' social media accounts.

This implies the lender trawling through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media accounts held by customers for comments on its service.

The bank has been telling customers that the move "helps us understand your behaviour".

As part of the mortgage application process, customers were required to sign a consent form, which gives permission for a range of things, and allows their social media accounts to be looked at.

Now the bank has backtracked and altered its mortgage consent form, dropping any reference to data analytics or looking at customer social media accounts.

But mortgage broker Karl Deeter, who revealed the bank was seeking permission to monitor social media accounts, said the lender had been forced to change tack due to a backlash.

"I believe the exposure got the bank to change. It just shows that the media can help achieve a good outcome for customers," he said.

It is not before time. There was already a backlash against the move when it was exposed by this publication.

AIB insists it never intended to analyse individual social media accounts.

"AIB does not monitor individual customer social media accounts and as such never makes decisions using individual customer's social media data," said a spokesman

"The only individual social media data that's used by the bank is when a customer contacts us on AIB Group social channels and we respond to specific queries from customers as is normal practice."

However, the bank said yesterday it monitors macro social media trends and sentiment towards its brand on social media.

The bank's denial about trawling through individual social media accounts is despite it telling customers up to last week that "we analyse the information that we collect and hold on you through channels… our analysis helps us to offer you products and services content we believe will be of interest to you".

Well, if the bank was not analysing individual accounts, how would it know what products to offer that "would be of interest to you"?

You can't tailor products to an individual by looking at aggregated social media content.

Anyway, that sort of activity was always likely to fall foul of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) data privacy laws coming in this month, something the bank was well aware was on the way.

The change of tack is to be welcomed.

If only the bank had asked anyone with some street smarts, it would have realised that it was on a hiding to nothing by initially telling customers it wanted to look at their social media accounts.

There may be lots of cents knocking around in banks in this country, but common sense is in short supply.

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