Airtel audited for allegedly giving users bank accounts without consent

bharti airtel
Image credit: Casimiro PT / Shutterstock.com

ITEM: Bharti Airtel is reportedly in trouble with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) over allegations that the cellco signed up users to its payment bank service without their consent.

According to ET Telecom, UIDAI – which collects and verifies personal data, including biometrics, for India’s Aadhaar digital identity system – has temporarily suspended Airtel from using Aadhaar’s e-KYC (Know Your Customer) service, which enables banking and financial services companies to electronically verify the identity of their customers. It also enables cellcos to verify the ID of people who buy SIM cards.

UIDAI reportedly ordered the suspension in response to complaints by Airtel customers that the cellco was using their Aadhaar info to open accounts in their name for its Airtel Payments Bank service without their consent. Some customers also allege that Airtel was using the same data to direct customers’ government LPG subsidies into those accounts.

Both would constitute a violation of the Aadhaar Act of 2016, which prohibit the use of Aadhaar data for anything without the explicit, informed consent of the user.

Airtel confirmed the suspension in a statement to ET Telecom, adding that it had in fact had a process in place to ensure customers had to explicitly opt in for an Airtel Payments Bank account. However, the report said:

UIDAI has alleged that the mobile app used by Airtel executives to verify connections had a pre-checked box stating that the user wanted to open an Aadhaar-linked payment bank account also.

UIDAI has tapped PriceWaterhouseCoopers to audit Airtel and its banking arm to find out if its processes comply with the law. The suspension will remain in force until the audit results are in – which means Airtel will be unable to use Aadhaar e-KYC to verify new SIM purchases or open new bank accounts in the interim.

ET Telecom also reports that Airtel could face a fine as steep as 20 million rupees ($313,000) if PwC finds it violated the Aadhaar Act.

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