We’ve always been clear that credit cards aren’t something to be afraid of. They’re a financial tool like any other – use them wisely and you can get benefits and rewards without lining the credit companies’ pockets.
However, when the interest rates are particularly high and given to people who may not have the means to repay their borrowing, these cards can become a problem. Unfortunately, a recent investigation by the BBC has found some issues with the way in which high-interest cards and other financial products are being promoted.
They have found that people looking for benefits advice and information on local council websites are then being retargeted by adverts for high-interest credit cards. Using tracking information commonly known as cookies, advertisers were apparently able to collect browsing information about people on council benefit pages and target ads accordingly.
The BBC have shared concerns that this may be damaging for potentially vulnerable residents, and the relevant regulator will look into the situation to assess any wrongdoing. In particular, they will be looking to see whether councils and regulators followed GDPR data protection rules.
The ads that have caught the BBC’s attention include high-interest credit cards as well as private pension plans and Black Friday discounts. These are all items that can have a negative impact on a person’s financial health if not used appropriately.
Speaking to technologist Eliot Bendineli, the BBC heard that: “Tracking people through benefits pages is sadly typical. It’s always the people that are already vulnerable who are going to suffer the most.”
But it’s not the nature of the products that could cause councils to get into trouble. Instead, regulators will look at issues around the consent collected from the website’s users.
Since the introduction of GDPR there have been very strict rules about the kind of browsing data that websites can collect about their users. If councils have not been collecting the correct permissions from their users, then they may have to pay a hefty fine.
Many councils have now responded to the news, claiming that they have not broken any rules, and that they’re careful to ensure the advertisers that they work with are appropriate for the public sector. Until the regulator has had a chance to investigate further, it will be difficult to know exactly what has happened here.
However, the important thing to take away from the story is the fact that advertisers on the internet may well be targeting ads based on your browsing habits – and they won’t always have your best interests in mind.
If you’re on the look out for a financial product such as a credit card, then we would never recommend going through an ad that pops up at the side of your browser. You’re unlikely to be seeing the best deals – they may be counting on the fact that the convenience of the offer that has popped up in front of you will stop you from doing your due diligence by researching what’s out there.
Much better to take matters into your own hands by comparing deals from different providers. Stories like this underline the importance of a healthy dose of scepticism when seeing financial adverts, especially when the deals look too good to be true.