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February 27, 1998

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The Squeal Deal

BPL Mobile and credit card companies will share data
on 'negative' customers. Is this a breach of your privacy?

Email this story to a friend. A Staff Writer in Bombay

BPL Mobile, the cellular service provider, will collaborate with credit card companies to share its list of 'negative' customers.

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The deal, the first of its kind in India, is part of BPL's strategy to improve subscriber quality and weed out fly-by-night customers.

The arrangement may go a long way in building credit profiles and keeping these companies healthy. But is it breaching the customer's privacy?

A Bombay journalist was shocked. "I am not comfortable with this. If I can prove that a credit card or a mobile phone has been denied to me on the basis of a shared negative list I would sue... or at least do something about it," she said.

But an art director in a reputed advertising agency was more than happy. "These are the only ways you can safeguard the business. If they don't do it, they would be out of a job. And we would have no mobile phones; no credit cards. Besides, if you take a strictly moralistic view, it is good that tabs are being kept on crooks who cheat credit card and mobile phone companies."

When asked if he would feel safer with the task being entrusted to the police or an independent body rather than a bunch of entrepreneurs, he said, "You know what the police is like. Eventually these companies will have to solve their own problems."

The art director gave the example of a book club in London, which lets you buy six to seven books for just 1.5. You are then allowed to pay the balance later. Yet people dare not cheat, because then their identity would be on a shared computer database and the defaulter would be locking herself out of several purchase options. "The system is a deterrent to crime," he points out.

He was also not very concerned about individual data being sold to direct marketing agents. "That's being done anyway, whether you like it or not. And who am I to complain, after all, my bread and butter comes from such data that goes into building advertising."

An executive in a Bombay based Internet software company shared his views and, if anything, was only more enthusiastic.

"This is great news. These people are smart and are solving their problems. I am not paranoid. Why should I complain? And even if they have to run their data on computers and derive value from my consumption pattern, I would not mind. At the end of the day, it would mean better schemes for me. Even if they sell the data to direct marketing companies, the junk mail would improve in quality!"

BPL Mobile, which already has a credit risk management system, will readily be able to access information from credit card companies and instantaneously identify defaulted credit card customers.

The company is also talking to car finance companies to design a common model in order to share information on 'banned' customers.

G S Subramaniam, associate vice-president and chief of finance, BPL Mobile Communications, is reported to have said that the deals with credit card companies are at a preliminary stage.

"We are considering several models to design such a list of customers that will eventually help us in improving our efficiency as far as the quality of the subscriber is concerned," he has said.

He pointed out that there couldn't be many different ways to ensure better subscribers because, unlike the US, there is no social security number nor any individual financial data available.

"This is also because in India there is no concept of sharing information. That is why BPL Mobile has created a state-of-the-art billing system that is, by far, the best in the country," he claimed.

Costing a little over Rs 60 million, BPL's credit risk management system enables the company to track customers on a near real time basis.

Each subscriber, based on specific criteria, is internally designated a threshold limit on the number of calls that can be made.

Each day the system lists subscribers who have crossed the threshold limit. Says Subramaniam "This also helps subscribers in checking their calls although the same could be found out from a toll-free number."

"We have done a reasonably good job of generating revenues and managing our receivable. Because of our efficient billing management we have reduced delinquency rates to the lowest in the industry and today have the highest revenue per subscriber," he claimed.

BPL Mobile has 92,000 customers till date. But Hutchison Max maintains the number one position with 123,000 subscribers in Bombay.

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