Carriers, It’s Time to Weld the Lid Shut on Customers’ Data

Personalization and privacy seem inherently at odds. After all, media companies such as Facebook act like vacuum hoses for data – collecting much more than they need. That’s problematic in a world where data breaches dominate headlines nearly every week. However, where Facebook and others go low, mobile carriers can go high. In fact, mobile carriers that aim to be media companies have a huge opportunity to respect privacy while providing great personalization in their original content.  

So, how can carriers take this high road — that is, deliver personalized content experiences without storing consumers’ personal information? By focusing on the device itself – leveraging local storage and client-side execution (rather than requiring server interaction) to help carriers deliver a personalized experience that is incredibly safe. This allows carriers to implement the industry-changing trend of device-centric discovery (DCD), which makes it easy for subscribers to find news/sports/entertainment/games without having to wade through multiple apps and searches. With DCD, carriers can create personalized content experiences that don’t expose subscribers’ personal data to external privacy risks, and in the process, become privacy-conscious mobile media leaders.

Personal data: Handle with care

In the face of GDPR and CCPA, the industry’s position on data collection and use have had to change. The original thought in the consumer marketing space was to collect as much data as possible, at all times, and figure out what could be done with it later. With these strict new laws in the books and accompanying consumer backlash against the use of their private data, carriers need to be much more thoughtful about what they really need and how to balance any additional data collection with delivering true, direct value to the user. It’s important to be mindful of the inherent risks of data collection. Consumers are more and more cautious about giving up personal data (with good reason), and we need to be respectful of that. 

That is why the “high road” of DCD is so important — it may be the only way to personalize mobile experiences while keeping subscriber data safe. Google News, Apple News, and Flipboard all have identity-based personalization, requiring various degrees of data collection. Sponsored content providers like Taboola and Outbrain — who pitch themselves as “content discovery platforms” — track enormous amounts of data and follow you around the web. This is not data that lives on the device; it’s data that’s stored on servers and in the cloud, and it’s not as secure as advertisers and tech companies would have you believe. Device-specific content discovery eliminates this tracking and keeps everything contained within the device. By leveraging the data that lives on the device itself, content can still be personalized to deliver experiences consumers really want. 

Less is more

For carriers who aim to provide subscriber experiences with personalization — whether they plan to use DCD or not — there are best practices that ought to be followed. First and foremost, before collecting any data, ask yourself, “Is there another way I could provide this user value, or a reasonable portion of it, without requiring personal data?”

If the answer to that question is “no,” then the first step to follow is this: Collect only what you need. At the same time, it’s just as important to communicate clearly what you’re collecting, why you are collecting it, and then use it to provide direct consumer value that’s obvious to the user. Make it crystal clear that the user is benefiting from this data collection, and clearly explain how. 

Privacy and personalization are naturally at odds. Just like in human relationships, the more somebody (or something) knows about you, the better they are (it is) able to connect more deeply and personally with you. But that trust, in any relationship, comes with the risk of exposure. When you trust someone or something with your personal details, it’s easier to be betrayed, even if that betrayal means they’ve accidentally shared something you had hoped to keep private.

It’s the same with digital experiences. The more information a publisher, advertiser, or carrier has about you, the easier it is for them to build experiences that are valuable and meaningful. However, the consequence of that connection is that by having enough data to provide direct, personal experiences, there is a much greater risk of exposing your personal user data. Just because it’s more difficult doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.  

Consider Apple Face ID as an excellent example. Face ID makes unlocking your phone and apps so much faster and easier, but at the same time, it’s incredibly secure. There is zero data transmitted externally — your face data and the processing of their recognition algorithms are all performed locally on the phone. Sure, it’s more difficult to build a solution like that, but it’s as secure as it can get. It has limitations of course, but those are part of the deal.

Safe and personalized mobile experiences are possible if we as an industry can be innovative and smart — and we’ve already proven our ability to be both. After all, if the device never talks to a server, there can be no collection of data to put anyone at risk. So, let’s continue to work to build personalized experiences for mobile users, building value and strengthening relationships — while keeping data privacy at the forefront. 

Geoff Allen is Chief Content Officer at Mobile Posse.

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