Customer data for sale

Customer data for sale

There has been some adverse consumer reaction to the news that UK mobile firms intend to sell customer data to advertisers. For the operators, however, it may their lifeline to haul in some of the world's diminishing advertising revenue.

Users will have to consent to the operators' collection and selling of "anonymised" demographic information about their users. There are consumer concerns that customers who don't accept this opt-in will be penalised, if only by not receiving free air time after agreeing to receive advertising on their mobiles.

In addition, there is a bigger worry that the demographics may not be as anonymous as intended, as happened when AOL sold anonymised data in 2006. Clever cross-referencing could reveal identities in that data set.

The GMSA announced at the recent Mobile World Conference that mobile user data would be made available to third parties later this year.

For the past year, the UK networks – 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone – have been conducting trial collection of data about the websites that their customers visit. The GMSA believes it will able to attract increased ad revenue by offering this type of information together with additional opt-in demographics and location data.

Mobile advertising hasn't taken off yet and it faces heightened threats from other media in the current global economic gloom. Operators are responding to the need to make mobile advertising more viable. Informa Telecoms & Media forecasts that mobile advertising revenue will reach £5.5 billion worldwide by 2011, but Strategy Analytics expects the UK market will grow to only £187 million in the same period.

Michael O'Hara, chief marketing officer for the GMSA, said that with the expanded data harvesting in the UK, "You can really start to build up a compelling case that says if you are a media company or advertising company, this is where you should be targeting your spending."

He described the data as "a real measurement of what people are doing with their mobile devices." He added: "We are moving to commercial launch of publishing a set of metrics on a regular basis. At the moment, if you were trying to buy space in mobile you would essentially use survey data, so this is a major step forward."

The GSMA stressed that the traffic data collected in the UK had not only been anonymised, it had also been checked with European regulators to ensure that it complied with the relevant privacy laws.

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