EE, Ipsos Mori, and the Importance of Privacy

The backlash that has followed this weekends Sunday Times report, claiming that market research company Ipsos MORI had attempted to sell EE subscribers data to Scotland Yard and other parties, is almost as interesting as the story itself.

Since it was reported, denials from the organisations involved have muddied the facts, but the whole situation has brought to the surface once again just how concerned mobile users are about the privacy of their information.

“I believe the level of disquiet this story has raised contains a clear lesson,” MEF global chairman Andrew Bud told Mobile Marketing. “Consumers, both as individuals and in soicety as whole, take privacy very seriously. The whole question of user trust, and of sharing info, is absolutely not just a compliance formality, and its not just a public affairs issue. Consumer anxiety about the use of their private information is bad for business.”

This is supported by MEFs own research, which has found that only 37 per cent of consumers are comfortable sharing personal data with an app, and that 35 per cent dont purchase more often on their mobile because of a lack of trust.

Getting it right

Its important not to demonise the operators in these situations, points out Yann Chevalier, CEO of Intersec, which provides operators with location-based data capture technology.

“It’s perfectly possible for operators to monetise this data in a number of ways that don’t compromise the privacy of subscribers in any way,” says Chevalier. “Operators need to be able to compete effectively with Over the Top (OTT) players like Google and also generate new revenue streams for their businesses as profits from more traditional ones such as voice and data dry up.”

In fact, it appears that EEs actions in this case were entirely above board – but perhaps the more important issue here possibly lies with the consumer. 

The average man on the street probably isnt too aware that information as personal as their location and browsing activity, anonymised though it is, can be traded in this way. If examples like these are the way they are educated about these issues, they are likely to react badly.

“This has already reached consumers headspace, as you can see from the research,” says Bud. “And as these issues explode, that number [of people who dont trust sharing data via their mobile] can easily grow. We know from past examples that simmering concerns can turn into sudden industry crises, and so I think that the industry must be proactive in doing things that address consumers real concerns.”

Bud points to the set of tools that MEF is currently developing for developers to help them implement best practice, which he says can be boiled down into three central principles which must be respected: transparency, user control, and security of data.

“This whole furore has blown up because there was a perception – which appears to be incorrect – that the data was being used without users control, and without the transparency of users knowing about it.”