Easy petrol pump option prompts data protection warning

Fuel companies in New Zealand are giving drivers more options to fill up in an attempt to remove congestion at the pump. However, Consumer NZ is warning people about giving away personal data, saying they are handing over much more than just their card details.

Z Energy and BP have launched apps which offer customers the option of filling up their car without setting foot in store. Z Energy is trialling "Fast Lane," which allows drivers to pull up to dedicated pumps, fuel up and drive off without leaving their car, touching their phone or even their wallet.

Z's rival BP allows its customers to pull up to any pump, select which pump they are at, pick the fuel type and how much they want, before jumping out, filling up, then driving off.

Both companies run this service through an app, which is pre-loaded with card details. In Z's case, the app is also loaded with the car's number plate, which is recognised by cameras at the service station.

Consumer NZ head of testing Paul Smith wanted to remind consumers to check what they were signing up for, and what the company would do with the data. "Consumers should realise they are giving up a lot of their personal data to the fuel company, [which is] a concern for many of these loyalty schemes."

The apps, as well as card loyalty programmes such as AA Smartfuel, meant consumers were effectively giving up data about their driving habits, grocery shopping "and much more", Smith said. The apps were a push by the fuel companies to create a loyal following, Smith said.

Petrol was petrol and the lack of price competition between stations was well-documented so companies had to do something else to get drivers' attention.

He thought the Z system would go down well. "The number plate recognition system is used at airport parking too, so it's all tech that's in place and should work well," Smith said.

"However, with the Z service, consumers need to be aware that it's based on your number plate, you don't need your phone with you, so anyone driving your car can refuel," Smith said.

"That could be a good thing, adding convenience for other family members, or a risk."

Z general manager of retail Mark Forsyth said the company launched Fast Lane in response to customers wanting to "quickly refuel and get on their way".

"One customer even said that it's like going back to the 'good old days' when you didn't have to get out of the car, which is somewhat ironic considering the technology involved."

Fast Lane is being trialled at 10 Z service stations in Auckland and Christchurch, with the possibility of adding more.