Mobile phone users uncomfortable with telcos selling data

A new survey of over 2,500 UK smartphone users has revealed the general unease they feel about network operators selling usage data to third parties – even if it has been anonymised.

The survey, conducted by TNS Omnibus and sponsored by analytics vendor Guavus, found that only 46% of consumers would be willing for telcos to sell anonymised usage data, such as their app usage, to third parties. 

It also found that just 43% would be willing for them to sell aggregated, anonymous personal data such as their age and location. 

That fewer than half of respondents were comfortable with the idea of telcos selling on anonymised data is a blow for an industry that is evidently keen to exploit its customer's mobile usage data. 

The issue was front page news two weeks ago, when The Sunday Times reported on an agreement between mobile operator EE and market research Ipsos MORI that would allow the latter to access aggregated, anonymised data including geo-location to the neared 100 metres and web usage. 

Whether the respondents who oppose data sharing are aware of the reported shortcomings of anonymisation technology, or if they are just uneasy with the whole concept, here is an example of privacy concerns threatening to scupper what might otherwise be a highly lucrative business for the telecommunications industry. 

Louis Brun, senior VP at Gauvus, said it was "very encouraging to see there is a large group of people out there who are willing to give consent.”

“With the explosion of mobile data across networks, operators are now uniquely positioned to gain valuable insights into customer behaviour and demographics; a valuable resource in today’s data hungry world,” he said. 

“However, customer consent is key and there needs to be transparency over how the data will be used and in what context. Clearly this is, and will continue to be, a divisive and controversial issue."

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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