Bringing the Mobile Privacy Predicament into Focus

Mobile privacy in spotlight at MWC 2016This week at Mobile World Congress, it’s all about privacy for us at Syniverse. We just released the results of a major study on mobile privacy, and we’re looking forward to sharing the insights at the show this week.

If you think about it, the amount of data we have the capability to amass now is eye-opening, along with the number of ways we can use it. From connected cars that take over part of our driving, to smart homes that monitor our residences inside and out, to apps that measure any number of vital statistics about our every waking (and sleeping) moment, we’re producing an avalanche of data every day. According to Gartner, by 2020 there will be 26 billion connected devices that aren’t PCs or phones in the world, up from less than 1 billion in 2009. All of these will be creating and transmitting data.

Harness this data, and it can be incredibly useful. The notion of using big-data elements – like demographic information, location and interaction history – to personalize services has increasingly entered our consciousness. And, importantly, this concept has become the centerpiece of many emerging mobile business models and sophisticated brand engagement strategies.

Yet, despite all these new possibilities for big data, one question that those of us in the mobile business and in the consumer sector have been grappling with is, to what extent are consumers willing to share personal data in return for more personalized services along their mobile journey?

It’s actually difficult to tell since, surprisingly, little research has been done on the subject. So we decided to conduct our own study, and last month we joined forces with a research firm to complete a survey of 8,000 consumers in eight countries to uncover their attitudes toward mobile privacy. The results, which you can look at in full here, are astonishing, and make for difficult reading for operators and enterprises.

Among a few of the findings:

  • 75 percent of consumers surveyed say they don’t trust brands to take care of their data.
  • 71 percent say they don’t trust mobile operators to take care of their data.
  • 89 to 94 percent admit to having at least some concern when sharing data with brands in the retail, financial services, travel and hospitality vertical markets, as well as with mobile operators.

What’s clear is that consumers don’t feel that their mobile experiences have been significantly improved by the sharing of personal data. At the same time, consumers say the responsibility to keep data safe lies with enterprises (55 percent) and mobile operators (30 percent), with regulators coming in a distant third (15 percent).

The expectation that brands and mobile operators are responsible for the security, transparency and control of consumer data defines the “mobile privacy pact” between them and their customers. And this can only be good news, because it empowers mobile operators and enterprises to address this privacy predicament head on.

This study results are a warning signal to operators and enterprises that it’s time to take consumer privacy concerns seriously. They must achieve the right balance in the value exchange between users allowing their personal information to be shared and users gaining an enriched experience by their favorite brands in return. Ultimately, a more transparent approach to personalization is required that puts the user in the driver’s seat and makes data security and personal privacy paramount. This approach will form the new “mobile privacy pact” of the future, and it will not only pave the way for future successful engagement strategies, but, crucially, happy customers.

We’re looking forward to using our study to help operators and enterprises take the next steps with this approach. We think that the issue of mobile privacy has become so critical that the announcement of these findings deserves no less a stage than Mobile World Congress. I’m excited to get everyone’s feedback on this at Barcelona this week.

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Mary Clark is a former Chief Corporate Relations Officer and Chief of Staff at Syniverse.

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