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British watchdog warns financial firms over use of Big Data

The FCA says firms should be clear to consumers about how their data is used - or risk 'disenfranchising' them

London

BRITAIN'S banks and insurers must take the lead in spelling out how they will use data collected from customers or they could face new rules, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) chair Charles Randell said on Wednesday.

The use of Big Data requires good communication so that consumers understand and accept a firm's approach to using their data and do not end up being "disenfranchised", he said.

In the financial sector, insurers are looking to ramp up their use of Big Data, including social media use, to price motor or home insurance more accurately, rewarding customers considered lower-risk, such as those with good driving habits; some insurers offer lower health insurance premiums based on regular gym attendance.

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Mr Randell said: "By good communication, I don't mean pages and pages of obscure disclosures, disclaimers and consents. I mean short, readable statements which make it clear what firms will or won't do with their customers' data. These need to be developed with consumers, not imposed on them."

In his first major speech since becoming chair of the FCA in April, he said: "A number of firms do this already, but many do not. Should all businesses have a data charter? Should these be developed through voluntary codes of practice? Will the industry take the lead or should they be a regulatory requirement?"

In September 2016, the FCA dropped plans for a formal review of whether Big Data might make it harder or more expensive for some customers to buy a car or home insurance, but said it would look at the risk of some customers being excluded.

Mr Randell said the power of Big Data corporations and their central place in providing services that are now essential in everyday lives raise significant questions about the adequacy of global frameworks for competition and regulation.

Britain's information regulator said on Wednesday that it intends to fine Facebook £500,000 pounds (S$900,768) - the maximum possible for breaches of data protection laws - as the watchdog investigates how millions of users' data was improperly accessed by consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

"The ordinary consumer may in practice have no choice in whether to deal with these corporations on terms which are non-negotiable and are often too general to be well understood.

"And without access to the data which consumers have signed - or clicked - away, new businesses may find it very difficult to compete," Mr Randell said.

"If you add all these factors together, they call into question the adequacy of the traditional liberal approach to the relationship between financial-services firms and their customers. And regulation is central because it will help define whether AI (artificial intelligence) and Big Data liberate customers, or disenfranchise them." REUTERS

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