Privacy of CAT personal information: Axis Bank sending direct marketing mailers to CAT candidates

Pesky calls and SMS are the flavor of the season, what with the government penalising the telecom industry by setting daily limits on SMS and unleashing heavy fines on telemarketers. That however does not cover email and snail-mail spam.

All these years, MBA applicants have been complaining that the information provided while purchasing the Common Admissions Test (CAT) voucher (such as name, address and phone number) was somehow making its way to private business schools who were then using it to spam the living daylights out of MBA applicants.

The suspicion has often been laid on Axis Bank, which gathers all this information to issue CAT vouchers.

While Axis Bank’s role in hiving off personal information to marketing agencies has never been established, we now have clinching proof that Axis Bank is using personal information of CAT takers to acquire customers for themselves.

After buying his CAT voucher from an Axis Bank branch in Mumbai, a staff member received a direct marketing mailer from the bank within days. The letter (see image above) first thanked the person for visiting the bank and buying the voucher and then started peddling its products and services. We take this opportunity to invite you to experience our varied banking products. We would like to share with you details about the same. You are welcome to contact any of our officers below. That was followed by names and mobile numbers of seven of the bank’s executives.

CAT Convenor Prof Janakiraman Moorthy expressed shocked upon hearing this and suggested that maybe PaGaLGuY had made a mistake in connecting the dots. When told that the letter was in our custody and had been delivered to one of our own employees, he said that the move was totally uncalled for. I will speak to Axis Bank and if the letter has been sent to you then it is wrong and should never have been done, he said.

When contacted, Axis Bank at first refused to believe that a letter of this kind had reached us. Abhay Nargund, Assistant Vice-President and Branch Head of Shivaji Park (where the letter came from) said that only one or two such letters had been sent and only to discuss the bank’s activities. When asked on what basis were the ‘one or two persons’ chosen from the many who would have bought the CAT voucher from the bank, Mr Nargund said he would find out. He later responded explaining that the letter had been delivered to us totally out of oversight on the part of a junior marketing executive of the bank. The letter was never meant to be sent to any person who had visited the bank for a CAT voucher. It was sent by mistake, he said.

Was it really a mistake or was the letter sent intentionally?

Ironically, there is no legal protection in India against email or snail-mail spam. Explained Mr Bhadran VK, Associate Director of Cyber Forensics a the Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), Thiruvananthapuram, Only email or post which contains explicit material or one that can be termed as ‘sexually-harassing’ is reported to and investigated by the cyber crime cells. Rarely does other type of post or email get complained about.

For the seemingly ‘harmless’ email and post, Mr Bhadran said that a new law was being drafted which may bring all ‘other’ unsolicited material under it.

As of now, there is only Article 21 of the Constitution of India which deals with the ‘Right to Privacy’, which can be evoked to take such an issue to a legal authority.

No, the letter from Axis Bank was neither harmful, nor sexually harassing or explicit. But the point of contention here is that when the agencies that are officially appointed to handle the affairs of the CAT are themselves not setting the best example of protecting the personal data of CAT candidates, can they be trusted to protect it from spam-happy private b-schools?