Telco Industry Questions and Answers

Claire McMahon

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Blog Post

The Looming End to the 'War on Privacy'

Adversaries or Advocates – Who will prevail?

I recently attended European Communication's Big Data Seminar, accompanied by the usual crowd - leaders from MNOs, vendors, consultancies and industry publications. Whilst jostling my way toward the breakfast buffet, the word that echoed throughout the breakout room was ‘privacy'. It seemed to be the topic of choice for networking small talk.

The key note presentations that followed mirrored the chatter, each covering differing aspects of privacy issues - the unifying theme of which seemed to be the notion that we are now at a crossroads - to the right is strict legislation terminating data gathering policies as we know them, and to the left, a change in social attitudes enabling the issues surrounding BDA to disperse. With campaigns pulling in both directions, it's difficult to predict which side will prevail.

Campaign groups such as Big Brother Watch and European Digital Rights (EDRi) are working tirelessly to persuade law makers to tighten regulation on data gathering/ selling policies. Their efforts have attracted mass support in the months following the PRISM scandal and prominent hacks. Whilst their efforts are to be commended, they are arguably paving the way for a world where Big Data Analytics and similar endeavours will become virtually impossible to deploy. This belief will undoubtedly please those who regard their personal information as sacred, but to those with a more laid back attitude to data gathering and even those who recognize the societal benefits offered by big data (such as enhanced national security), it's a troubling thought.

The belief that privacy scandals are acting as a driver of these campaigns worries telcos. In comparison to the banking and retail sector, telcos' reputation for internal data gathering has not (yet) been seriously marked. However, just one event, such as coverage of a whistle-blower bent on reciting his stories of secret data gathering to the world, could irrevocably tarnish the reputation of the entire industry and seriously jeopardize the future of BDA and perhaps even limit future innovations. The answer, cited by many at the seminar, was: transparency and trust.

If telcos are transparent with how they extract and use personal data, the ‘whistle-blower' threat is automatically neutralized. Moreover, it acts as a precursor to gaining customer trust. As discussed in my previous blogs, trust is critical to the success of BDA. Opt-in policies are now being deployed as standard in order to both circumvent regulatory constraints and to provide at least some power to the customer. However, trust and incentives are essential to get customers opting-in - or they'll be left asking, quite fairly: "what's in it for me?"

Veris C³, the Big Data appliance from AsiaInfo-Linkage, can provide tangible incentives to end-users via a Real-time Self Service app. One of the end-customer benefits of sharing data with them is data billing transparency - customers can conduct, in real-time, personal traffic analysis - effectively ending the horrors of bill-shock. Furthermore, Veris C³ enables customers to opt-in, and critically, opt-out of data gathering policies in real-time. The ability for customers to immediately opt-out is crucial if an operator is to avoid the contempt driven by customers' frustrations from receiving marketing messages after they have already opted-out.

By eradicating the frustrations of being ‘marketed to', and by providing clear incentives, social attitudes towards Big Data will begin to evolve. Only then can the industry begin to foresee Big Data as integral component of long term strategies, free from threats of crippling legal impositions on data aggregation. If we are to turn left, the industry must act now, otherwise plans for big data in Europe will be thwarted before they've even really begun...

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Claire McMahon is the International Telecom Analyst at AsiaInfo-Linkage, the supplier of the world's most advanced software solutions and IT services to the telecommunications industry.