CBA releases new tech use policy to stamp out abusive behaviour on its digital platforms

The Commonwealth Bank has released a new acceptable use policy for its web-based NetBank service and CommBank app in an effort to stamp out a disturbing trend of “technology-facilitated abuse” identified among some of its customers.

Customers found to be engaging in “defamatory, harassing or threatening conduct” through CBA’s digital services “may have their transactions refused or access to digital banking services suspended or discontinued,” the bank said in a statement.

“The message is simple, we can see you and we won’t tolerate the use of our digital banking platforms to facilitate abuse,” said Catherine Fitzpatrick, general manager of community and customer vulnerability.

The move comes after Australia’s biggest bank noticed a stream of “disturbing messages in the account of a customer experiencing domestic and family violence”.

“We were horrified by both the scale and the nature of what we found,” she said in a statement.

Opening an investigation, the bank identified thousands of customers had also fallen victim to similar abusive messages.

Perpetrators, the bank revealed, were found to be using the transaction description field to forward abusive messages, effectively skirting around communication blocks (i.e. blocking an individual’s messages or phone number) the receiver may have implemented.

“In a three month period, we identified more than 8,000 CBA customers who received multiple low-value deposits, often less than $1, with potentially abusive messages in the transaction descriptions – in effect using them as a messaging service.”

CBA said senders and receivers of these messages were not limited to a particular gender, with the nature of the content ranging from “fairly innocuous ‘jokes’ using profanities to serious threats and clear references to domestic and family violence”.

CBA’s new Technology Use Policy has been designed around the Australian e-Safety Commissioner’s Safety by Design framework.

eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, said: “Safety by Design encourages and assists industry to take a proactive and consistent approach to user safety, helping companies to innovate and invest in safety to improve the user experience for their customers.

“We are delighted that CBA has been guided by our Principles to better protect their customers.”

CBA said it has collaborated with experts, community partners, and law enforcement to address its findings, and will further extend these insights to fellow banks and other FSIs “to ensure this issue is known across the industry”.

Approximately one in four women and one in thirteen men in Australia have experienced violence by an intimate partner, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures from 2017. Among those who seek support, up to 90 per cent are also affected by financial abuse.

Further, 2015 national study found that 98 per cent of respondents had experienced technology-facilitated stalking and abuse as part of their domestic violence experience.

More information on CBA’s efforts to address domestic and financial abuse can be found here.