O2 owner to sell customer location info through new 'big data' unit

O2 owner to sell customer location info through new 'big data' unit

Summary: Telefónica has created a business unit that will offer analytics data based on mobile network use by customers. The anonymised data will prove particularly handy for working out how many people are in a place at any given time.


Telefónica, the parent company of mobile operator O2, has created a business unit called Dynamic Insights, devoted to selling off the data created by its customers.

The first product from the Telefónica Dynamic Insights unit, announced on Tuesday, is called Smart Steps. It involves anonymising and aggregating mobile network data so that companies and public sector organisations can use it to evaluate the number of people visiting their stores and venues.

Telefonica, parent of O2, plans to sell data gathered from its customers' activities.

The example given by Telefónica is that of a town council, which might want to know how many more people are visiting a high street after free parking is introduced.

Telefónica is not going to work alone on the initiative: the Spanish telco has signed a strategic partnership with market research firm GfK to develop products in the UK, Germany and Brazil.

"Big data is one of the key building blocks of the digital economy. Approached in a smart and responsible way it has the potential to transform every part of business and society — providing economic growth and improving people's lives," Telefónica Digital chief commercial officer Stephen Shurrock said in a statement.

Going large

'Big data', a field that was until recently known as 'analytics', is in many ways a natural field for large telcos to get into. Such companies constantly monitor where their customers are, and the resulting datasets are ideal for such things as measuring traffic flow.

Indeed, that is one of the products that the new business unit is planning, as part of its 'Smart City' services. Fraud protection provides another use case.

However, telcos have largely ceded control of the applications that run on their customers' phones to Apple, Google and those companies' developer ecosystems. This limits the data the telcos can collect to rough location data, and provides one explanation for their keenness to avoid being mere 'dumb pipes'.

Telefónica does have other tricks up its sleeve, though. The company has many fixed-line customers and even free public hotspots, so it can potentially draw on Wi-Fi data and perhaps information gathered through its TV services.

The company also noted in its statement that it can play with the vast amounts of machine-to-machine (M2M) data it gathers through corporate customers, although it did not provide any suggestion of how it intended to exploit this resource.

Topics: Big Data, Privacy, Telcos, EU, United Kingdom

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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1 comment
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  • Excellent

    Maybe they can afford to stop charging customers to pick up voicemail now?

    I am of course joking, that would be crazy, but in all seriousness, this kind of data collection has never really bothered me. So long as it is definitely anonymised before sale, I don't see the big deal; it's not data they aren't already using internally. Personally I've always been more concerned with what data goes from my phone to app developers.

    I think we've all seen enough detective shows to know that a rough geographic are is already logged when a phone connects to the network, so it's not a big step.

    I am a bit more concerned about this 'dumb pipes' business... I have never received a competent piece of software from one of these companies, ironically including recent mobile apps. It's been quite nice that smartphones of late don't seem to come with all the network crapware on them anymore. With that in mind I'm very suspect about them providing more than communication services, especially O2 who have just had to reimburse me for 4 days with no signal what so ever.

    In short companies really should stick to what they're good at and perfect it; the free o2 wifi in the west end this summer has been excellent. As for google networks; I think they're a long way off that; the infrastructure needed is just massive - have you ever tried calling 3's customer support or getting signal outside of major cities?