Credit management company Baycorp is generating new business since listing its services on the Internet through the National Business Review Business Centre Online.
"It's mainly small business which would previously have used an 0800 or 0900 service," says managing director Keith McLaughlin.
"Frankly, if NBR hadn't come up with a structured database, we wouldn't have done it. Till then, the Internet had been a largely unstructured environment and not a suitable one across which to provide credit reporting services.
"Our approach has been to make only those services available over the Internet which are consistent with both the intent of the Privacy Act and our own custodial standards."
Baycorp holds 2 million individual credit records and 160,000 business records in 60Gb of continuously updated data. To support its reporting functions on credit worthiness, Baycorp also furnishes customers with information from public databases.
Providing information via the Internet raises new questions about individual privacy.
"Because we may have no prior relationship with someone using the NBR Business Centre, we have no way of verifying that the use to which the information will be put is a legitimate use of credit information," McLaughlin says.
"So we insist on their completing our standard application form in which they state that the data will be used for a lawful purpose, and undertake to adhere to our terms and conditions.
"As a consequence, and till a set of guidelines for credit reporting is established by the Privacy Commissioner, we have established a prudent set of credit reporting procedures to meet the challenge of the Internet economy."
Unlike individuals, companies are not protected by the Privacy Act. So for a standard fee the casual Internet-originated user can receive credit reports on registered companies.
Public database access provided by Baycorp includes Valuation New Zealand's property information database, Motorcheck's motor vehicle registration database, NZ Post's household postal address update and, soon, the electronic white pages. Baycorp on-sells access to these on behalf of the original publisher.
"Privacy principles don't inhibit the supply of publicly available information," McLaughlin says. "The sole restriction on redistribution is that data from two public databases may not be joined and then on-sold. You can, however, on the same page, print separate queries for an individual against each of those databases."
Internet security is an issue, so much so that Baycorp will not furnish reports on individuals over the Net even though it could under the Privacy Act. "Much of the data we hold is the result of a relationship of trust between ourselves and our clients," he says. "It contains credit transaction and default histories on the individuals and companies who are their customers. Within our own environment we hold it very securely and till we are confident that the Internet provides a secure environment in which to make that data available, we are not prepared to jeopardise that relationship.”