Article by Richard Catlin - 7th June 2018

What Does Bongo Know About You?

“What does Bongo know about you?” A slightly off-the-wall question I’ll grant you, but one that you might have been asked at some point in time.

‘Ask Bongo’ is an SMS information service that encourages consumers to text questions on pretty much anything, to which it will send a bespoke reply in a few minutes.

Other than questions which breach the Bongo policy – which includes things that are ‘horrible’ and ‘detrimental to society’, there doesn’t seem to be a limit to what you can ask, with its main draw being its ability to answer personal questions about you with almost eerie level of accuracy.

Why you would text a question in the first place, especially when you consider that it costs £2.50 a time, is another matter, especially in an age when you can pretty much Google anything. Charges go straight onto your phone bill and so clearly, could quickly add up. Thankfully, Bongo is responsible enough to remind you of this and suggests that you limit yourself to just 20 questions a month - a snip at £50.

Who is behind Bongo?

Bongo Operations Pty Ltd is an Australian company that has expanded its operation to include the UK, South Africa and New Zealand. It has been around in the UK for a while, growing to peak popularity in 2013, but has since recently resurfaced having found a new audience thanks to some semi-popular YouTubers and Instagrammers, who took some time out of their busy schedule of taking pictures of their face and over-reacting to film trailers to dig up the old text service.

It has attracted criticism for its marketing in the past, which has included handed wristbands out to students encouraging them to use the service. The Bongo site makes it clear that you must be over 16 to use it.

Dig a bit deeper into the Bongo website though, and it’s the terms and conditions of the service that should really make you think twice before using it.

The Privacy Policy outlines how the company collects data and what they are allowed to do with it should you decide to use their service. The short version seems to be very close to ‘anything and everything’. Your name, age, address, address, bank account information and your email address are all fair game according to the Privacy Policy. And remember, you don’t need to tell them any of this information- this is a service that prides itself on being able to find information about anyone and everything. This information is then ‘stored on servers in the European Union’ for an undisclosed amount of time.

If that doesn't fill you with confidence, nor will their disclaimer that "...the transmission of information over the Internet and/or any telecommunications network is not completely safe which is why we cannot guarantee the security of data transmitted over such gateways."

Considering the hot water Facebook & Cambridge Analytica found themselves in recently, any company that handles private data needs to be cleaner than clean.

They’re not the easiest set of terms to interpret, and contain a few ‘loose’ definitions, but clearly state that Bongo is allowed to disclose personal information ‘to conduct our business’, whatever that may entail.

Where does Bongo get its information?

The terms also give an indication of the sort of sources that their data comes from, which include: face-to-face meetings, interviews, business cards, telephone conversations and information from third parties.

Apparently, the answers to questions that Bongo supplies are generated through a mix of human researchers and a software applications from a huge database.

So essentially, if someone asks a question that doesn’t automatically trigger a reply, a real person will attempt to find the most appropriate answer, presumably through searching the internet, social media and the other ‘resources’ available to them.

I can see how the service could pique someone’s interest enough to perhaps ask a couple of questions about themselves – basically a quirky, more expensive way of Googling yourself (also known as Egosurfing).

Crucially though, when you up that intrigue against the loose privacy policy, the fact that they are operating in accordance with Australian laws and directives rather than UK ones, and the high cost, Bongo is one drum I won’t be banging.

Instead of wondering what Bongo knows about you, you can see what lenders find out about you by checking your checkmyfile Credit Report. You'll get information from the UK's 4 Credit Reference Agencies and see what lenders assess when you apply for a loan. You can try checkmyfile free for 30 days, then for just £14.99 a month after. It's quick to sign up and easy to cancel, and you could learn a lot more about yourself than you will anywhere else.

Updated 07/06/2018 by Jamie Mackenzie Smith

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