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Data gathering sparks fears about customer exploitation

Customer loyalty cards are a favoured way of amassing data about purchasing habits Keystone

Credit cards, mobile phones and the Internet may make shopping simpler, but they also make it easier for businesses to acquire information about customers. That's the finding of a new study, which was presented in Bern on Monday.

The report, by the government-sponsored Programme for the Assessment of the Consequences of Technology, says customers are unwittingly passing on sensitive information about themselves to businesses, which may exploit the data and sell it on to third parties without consent.

The report’s authors say data collection effectively provides “digital DNA” in the form of detailed information about clients’ credit worthiness, tastes and preferences.

The authors say customers must be aware of the risks they run when signing up for customer loyalty cards or entering competitions.

Katharina Hasler of the Swiss Consumers Forum said the study’s findings confirmed her organisation’s worst fears. “Customers can be classified and manipulated through targeted advertising,” she said.

Data protection groups are also concerned about the report’s findings.

Bruno Bäriswyl, a data protection commissioner in canton Zurich, urged more transparency in the processing of information. He said financial sanctions should be imposed in the case of the misuse of data.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR