Telcos to be 'brokers' of subscriber privacy

There need not be a conflict between data privacy and monetization, as long as telcos ensure appropriate mechanisms and permission settings are in place.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Working closely with partner vendors to establish parameters and permissions in the management of subscriber data, carriers in Asia can ensure they fully comply within boundaries of customer privacy legislation and still tap mobile data monetization for new revenue opportunities such as highly-targeted and profile-based advertising.

This would be especially appealing to telcos, what with traditional voice and text messaging revenues are hitting a standstill, said Louis Brun, COO and founder of Neuralitic Systems. The company specializes in mobile data management and big data technologies including data collection and analytics.

In the first place, the subscriber always is the core business asset of operators, regardless of the various technological services they sell such as long-term evolution (LTE) networks and on-demand cable television, he added during a media briefing in Singapore on Thursday.

That is why unearthing the value of subscriber data and monetizing it as part of new business models is essential for telcos, or they will end up being mere commodities, he said.

It is clear with the increasing variety of mobile apps and mobile Web browsing patterns, subscriber mobile data is inherently multi-faceted and fast-changing, so telcos need tools that are flexible enough to always provide meaningful, usable intelligence, or they cannot effectively monetize it, Brun noted.

For instance, carriers can offer real-time contextual and behavior information gathered from its subscriber base to ad networks whose clients would be interested to carry out targeted ad campaigns.

In the past, telcos only had a few variables to segment their subscriber base, such as income type and gender. However today there are many more indicators to allow more precision, from the types of apps used to the length of visits at Web sites. Once all this information is gathered, analyzed and given structure, it can be exposed to or integrated with various kinds of initiatives, such as network optimization, reducing customer churn or cross-selling services, he added.

Subscriber and data privacy does not have to clash with the aim of telcos to find new ways to monetize their subscriber data, the COO highlighted, referring to the recent passing of the personal data protection bill in Singapore.

Under the new law, which becomes official next January, individuals are given more control over their personal data, with the set up of a national Do-Not-Call registry and a new enforcement agency will be tasked to regulate the management of personal data by businesses and impose financial penalties.

Brun explained he saw two aspects to privacy protection. The first was government legislation--which would vary from country to country--and operators would define the processes they will need to take in order to comply. The second area was that vendors must ensure their technological solutions offered have mechanisms or triggers that customers can utilize so they are able to comply at all times.

"By nature of their business, carriers always had user data, dealt with user privacy and always been regulated [by the authorities]. On the contrary, Internet players are not as regulated and they collect and use user data any way they want. [In that sense], operators are becoming like the broker of subscriber identity and confidentiality."

Francois de Repentigny, vice president of marketing and alliances at Neuralitic Systems, said the main crux of privacy legislation boils down to what and how operators used the subscriber data they had.

Referring to the company's flagship Sevenflow product suite, de Repentigny said the tools allow configuration of the structure and taxonomies for granular handling of the data, which would depend on the individual operator's needs and objectives.

Brun added: "We're the F1 car, while the operator is the driver."

Similarly, Timothy Goh, vice president of customer lifecycle management at StarHub, said in the same briefing operators have to be able to know how to make good use of analytics tools. The telco is the first local partner for Canada-based Neuralitic Systems in Singapore when it entered the market around 2010. The company is set to open an office here next January.

Goh explained it was not just about tackling the massive volume of data to "extract the gems" of value, but also clustering these insights with data points from other sources such as billing information from the CRM (customer relationship management) systems and then finally acting on it from a holistic view.

Referring to the upcoming data protection law, Goh said StarHub was talking to all its third-party vendors to see if their respective technologies have front-end permissions or consents available for users.

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