Are lo­cal in­ter­net cafés breach­ing cus­tomer con­fi­den­tially?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Star Re­porter

t wouldn’t be un­com­mon to sign onto a com­puter at an In­ter­net café, for what num­ber of rea­sons might have led you there, to find that the per­son be­fore you had for­got­ten to sign out of their email or other per­sonal ac­count. In fact, I re­mem­ber for­get­ting to sign out of my Face­book ac­count a few years ago only to find that some­one with way too much time on their hands had taken the lib­erty of post­ing on my ac­count on my be­half. They went so far as edit­ing photo cap­tions and other ma­te­rial, but for­tu­nately I was still left with full ac­cess to my ac­count.

It is less un­com­mon though for a per­son con­duct­ing busi­ness at a café, or per­haps even at a doc­u­ment sup­ply shop of­fer­ing these ser­vices, to have con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion of a stranger fall into their lap, or more pre­cisely, their in­box. I re­cently ex­pe­ri­enced just that at a café lo­ca­tion in the north of the is­land. I’d gone there early one morn­ing af­ter my desk­top printer at home re­fused to co-op­er­ate. I needed to have a doc­u­ment signed and scanned, and I wasted no time head­ing to Rod­ney Bay to get that done. I walked into the store, signed onto the com­puter with as­sis­tance from the store as­sis­tant, and pro­ceeded to go about my busi­ness. Af­ter hand­ing over my doc­u­ment, the woman man­ning the store asked whether I had a jump drive. I in­formed her that I did not, af­ter which she said she would email it to me. I spelt out my email ad­dress, and waited for the email no­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Mo­ments later the scanned doc­u­ment was in my in­box. Or so I’d thought. I opened it and the words Money Laun­der­ing glared at me through the screen. I won­dered if I had opened the right doc­u­ment. When I re­al­ized I had, I in­formed her that what I’d re­ceived was not my doc­u­ment, to which her calm de­meanour faded. I was brief in my de­scrip­tion of what she had sent me, and watched as her eyes widened, and her fin­gers fum­bled across her key­board. I could tell she was try­ing to keep her cool. She mum­bled some­thing about the doc­u­ment date on her com­puter be­ing wrong, and blamed that for her er­ror. She re­sent me the cor­rect doc­u­ment, but not be­fore ask­ing me to delete the pre­vi­ous email.

She laughed weakly, “I don’t usu­ally read the in­for­ma­tion cus­tomers come in here with any­way,” she said, and I won­dered what had made that par­tic­u­lar doc­u­ment so spe­cial that she’d kept it long af­ter the cus­tomer had left the store. My brief glance had al­ready told me ev­ery­thing I needed to know: judg­ing by the con­tent, the cus­tomer be­fore me likely would not have wanted any one else hav­ing ac­cess to his in­for­ma­tion.

I im­me­di­ately felt un­easy about my own in­for­ma­tion, and checked three or four times be­fore I left to make sure I’d signed out of my email. I in­structed the woman be­hind the counter to delete my in­for­ma­tion, and when she nod­ded in ac­knowl­edge­ment, I walked out of the store un­con­vinced. My in­for­ma­tion paled in com­par­i­son to that of the in­di­vid­ual who’d had his in­for­ma­tion re­tained with­out his con­sent, but that didn’t make it any less per­sonal.

Days be­fore I’d gone to an­other In­ter­net café in the area and I’d been told by the store at­ten­dant there that it was com­pany pol­icy to delete cus­tomer doc­u­ments as soon as trans­ac­tions were com­plete. The doc­u­ment I’d seen had been signed and sent off dur­ing the first week of March. Into the third week, I saw no rea­son why that com­pany would still have the ma­te­rial in its pos­ses­sion.

It is ques­tion­able how much any of these fa­cil­i­ties on is­land care about cus­tomer con­fi­den­tial­ity, and how much of peo­ple’s per­sonal in­for­ma­tion is kept post-trans­ac­tion with­out their knowl­edge. More mod­ern ser­vice cen­tres and cafés on is­land have im­ple­mented sys­tems whereby cus­tomer in­for­ma­tion is deleted when they log off, mak­ing the whole process safer, but still not im­per­vi­ous. One of the big­gest is­sues here is that busi­nesses sup­ply­ing these ser­vices need to be prop­erly reg­u­lated. They also need poli­cies that are clear, to re­as­sure cus­tomers that their in­for­ma­tion is safe when they come to con­duct busi­ness. More­over, staff in par­tic­u­lar need to be prop­erly trained in data pro­tec­tion as their ig­no­rance can very well prove to be a li­a­bil­ity to these com­pa­nies and their cus­tomers.

There are lessons to be learnt for cus­tomers, and staff alike, on con­duct­ing busi­ness at In­ter­net cafés as safely as pos­si­ble.

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