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Finance apps ‘screen scraping’ bank login credentials, fintech expert warns

The digitalisation of banking has added convenience to consumers through methods such as online transfers, bill payments, faster loan approvals and ease of sharing data, but what happens when you’re asked to share banking login details with a third-party company, even one that is credible?

user iconReporter
Tue, 12 Apr 2022
Finance apps
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According to Jill Berry, CEO and co-founder of Adatree, a regulated Australian fintech company, most consumers are looking for ways to save time and effort, but when it comes to convenience around data sharing via screen scraping, consumers have less control, security and transparency when banking logins are handed over.

Screen scraping is a little-known term whereby a third party extracts or “scrapes” a customer’s digital data for various services using their disclosed bank login credentials. Commonly used by personal budgeting apps, instant loan lenders or payments services, an organisation requests the user hand over their banking username and password, which they use to log in to access (scrape) required information – and sometimes even more.

Berry further explains that once third parties have the customer’s details, the consumer does not know how and where the data will be stored, whether it will be sold or shared, with whom, and for what purpose everything remains unknown.

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“It [data] can also be accessed by this hidden data vendor or screen scraping service at any frequency without any restrictions.

“There is no expiration date for third parties to stop scraping the customers data nor can consent be withdrawn.

“The only upside is convenience – customers simply provide their login details,” Berry said.

Financial institutions have used screen scraping since the 1980s to expedite the digital process, rather than manually sharing, entering and analysing data.

Fast forward to 2019, the Australian federal government created a legislation called the Consumer Data Right (CDR), known as “open banking in the financial sector, which gives control back to consumers, enabling consumers to choose what data they want to share and for how long.

To cease sharing their data at any point, consumers can simply withdraw consent and ask the business to delete their data.

Unlike in the UK, where screen scraping has been banned, it is still legal in Australia. It is also still quite common practice due to open banking being relatively new.

Consumers can protect themselves if asked to share banking login details with third parties by:

  • Consider opting for the manual method: Sharing your banking login might reduce a little life admin, but at what cost? Is it really worth an unidentified data vendor holding – or worse selling – your data? Until CDR becomes commonplace, Berry recommends manually downloading your statements from your online banking and sending them to the third-party company. While it can take a bit longer and be a tedious process, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your data remains secure in the hands of those you chose to share it with.
  • Change your password as soon as possible: In instances where online or paper statements are insufficient and your banking username and password must be provided, change your password as soon as the third party has accessed the required data. This will disable them from logging back into your account to access your banking data down the track, without your knowledge and express consent.
  • Research the company you’re sharing your data with: Some banking services who aren’t yet part of the Consumer Data Right require screen scraping to validate a loan application or for other services. If there is no alternative method, do your research around the company you need to share your data with. In particular, you want to look for whether they do ethical data sharing, which gives you more control and transparency. If you find they do not have ethical data practices, it might be wise to consider an alternative provider who has better ethics.
  • Find out whether the lender or service provider will be using CDR in the future: While screen scraping relinquishes your control and ability to consent to uses of your own data, CDR does the opposite – it gives power back to you, the consumer. If screen scraping remains the preferred method of the lender or service provider you’re using, ask whether they will implement CDR in the future – which puts your interests and privacy first. No passwords need to be shared, consent can be granted and revoked at any time, and your data remains in your control.

[Related: Zscaler and The Instillery announce new NZ managed services partnership]

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