O2 plans customer data control console

The mobile operator plans to provide its customers with a personal console that displays what data is held on them and how it is used by the company, in a move cautiously welcomed by privacy campaigners

Mobile operator O2 is planning a trial to give customers more control over how their private data is used for marketing and other purposes.

O2 headquarters

O2 is planning to give customers more control over how their personal data is used for privacy purposes. Photo credit: O2

Subscribers will be able to view information held by O2 and set preferences about how certain details are shared via a personal dashboard, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

O2 confirmed the plans, saying that the project is intended to give its customers peace of mind and more understanding of how their data is used.

"Relationships between customers and the companies that hold their data need to be built on trust," an O2 spokesman told ZDNet UK. "Customers need to be confident that companies aren't sharing information without their permission."

In general, mobile operators store the name, address and financial details of each customer for billing purposes, and may use these details for marketing purposes. However, they need to get opt-in from subscribers to use personal details for marketing purposes, according to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

Location data can be shared with third parties for use in promotions and marketing, with customer consent. Any use of subscriber data to build a picture of a customer's interactions and social networks for marketing purposes, or to pass on to other companies, requires explicit consent from the user.

"It's in the best interests of companies to be as open and honest as possible about how they are using customer data," said an ICO spokesman.

Consumer control

O2 will have to educate users about managing their data, said privacy campaigner Alexander Hanff, who cautiously welcomed the operator's plans.

"Consumers having more control over their data is good — how much control they will actually have is a different question," Hanff told ZDNet UK. "Consumer control needs to be comprehensive and fully informed."

Personal data is often passed on to third parties in a chain, said Hanff, a communications project leader at Privacy International. He questioned whether data control would pass back to the O2 customer through this chain.

In addition, a single point or console where data can be managed could end up as a 'weak link', he argued. The console risks becoming either a point of attack for data thieves, or as a point of failure for data compromise.

However, insider breaches are also a point of risk. In June, the ICO reported that two former employees at T-Mobile were told to pay £73,700 in fines and compensation after pleading guilty to unlawfully passing on names, addresses, telephone numbers and contact details to third parties.

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