PJ PhotoGuest blog from Paul Jesemann, Cisco Solution Consultant, Mobile Architecture, APJ

In June, a mobile operator in India was accused of spying on its customers by inserting a javascript in browsing sessions on its 3G network. The service provider admitted it was using a solution to help customers keep track of data usage, yet in press and blogs, concerns were expressed about it being a privacy breach, and a means to track subscriber browsing data for monetisation purposes.

Instead of unnecessarily debating the incident as such, maybe a different perspective would be helpful.

The model of using free services in exchange for information about ourselves is well established, and the outcry about methods used by companies like Google, Facebook or Amazon to make money out of information gathered about us is limited – including the browsing history based recommendations. Yet there seems to be a significant difference: with service providers, we are the paying customers, whereas in the other case, we are merely consumers paying with private data being sold to advertisers, the actual customers.

In a quest for new revenue sources, service providers are understandably looking to monetise customer data – and if it is to the benefit of the consumers too, why not?

As an example, Verizon offers Verizon Rewards to its customers, which is an opt-in programme contingent on allowing Verizon to offer aggregated customer data to marketers.

Technically, there are other sophisticated approaches too: from various data warehouse solutions to the SoftBank-led $20 Million Series B funding of Cinnara Systems, and a joint operation of a targeted advertising platform in SoftBank’s Japanese mobile network (incidentally, Cisco’s investment arm was part of Series A funding – an early recognition of the potential market opportunity). The press release stresses that the solution is “… addressing head-on the issue of consumer data privacy…”.

Back to the topic of web and media optimisation solutions: their prime objective is just that – optimisation and improved user experience. While such solutions typically offer the means for ad insertion and customer engagement, it should remain an optional module that does not gather confidential subscriber data and violate privacy in any way. Furthermore, irrespective of any solution chosen, there is a clear recommendation to adopt a transparent, consent-based approach to data collection and advertising, delivering value in exchange for information.

The decision whether they love freebies more than they hate giving up some privacy should be up to consumers – and I think our industry should respect that choice.

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Andrew Mackay

Head of Mobile Solutions

Asia-Pacific Region