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The rewards for those that harness the value of personal data are well documented. But, just as the 19th Century Gold Rush wrought disaster as well as triumph, success is not guaranteed. MEF CEO, Rimma Perelmuter surveys some of the obstacles facing modern day prospectors.

Data is now the lifeblood of most mobile businesses. Growing exponentially in volume and richness, it may supplant oil and gas as the most lucrative resource for modern economies. From Menlo Park to Mumbai and Cambridge to Cairo, a new generation of entrepreneurs and coders are inventing new models to harness its value.

And yet, as was the case for the oil tycoons of the early 20th Century, today’s prospectors are faced with a number of challenges, each more daunting than the last. At MEF’s recent Global Consumer Trust Summit in San Francisco, delegates identified these obstacles with a view to identifying potential remedies.

Patchwork regulation quilts chill markets, not warm them

Mobile is a global business, straddling continents and time-zones. It’s challenging enough for companies to adapt to economic and cultural differences without also having to cater to a hundred different regulatory regimes.

Lawmakers are charged with protecting their national peoples – that’s fair enough. But more has to be done to help businesses sell to a global audience without having to cater to individual acts of legislation. Some regulators understand this, and it was cheering to see the FCC and ICO talk about the need for harmonization between EU and US markets.

  These challenges are neither trivial nor easily resolved. And yet if the benefits of this new world are to be fully realised, building trust in the use of personal data is the only path to sustainable growth in mobile.”

Trust is imperative but undervalued

Industry’s use of personal data has already delivered significant benefits for consumers – the timely delivery of relevant ads, vouchers and offers is an early example. But there are too many rogue businesses out there abusing users’ privacy and showing scant regard to personal preference. The message from delegates was loud and clear: without trust, mobile services will never realise their true potential.

And yet…Rigorous security carries a cost. Privacy often chafes against monetization. Many businesses fear losing market share by overly-restrictive policies and practices. Which brings us to the next challenge.

We don’t yet operate on a level playing field

Today, enforcing data protection rules is a challenge for many regulators who lack the resources or clear data points to take on rogue businesses. For every high profile penalty or adjudication, there are several services getting away with much worse.

Regulators must support those companies who have invested in best practice, determined to build a sustainable business based on trust. The authorities must send a clear message that rules will be enforced, then follow up on their promise.

Consumer apathy

Survey after survey reveals growing consumer concerns over the use of their data. MEF’s own analysis suggests that a lack of trust is the single biggest barrier in the way of growth in the mobile sector.

There’s less evidence that these issues inform consumer behaviour. As consumers, almost all of us are guilty of accepting terms and conditions without reading them so we can get on and use the service, especially if it’s free. However, this may be changing. MEF’s most recent Global Consumer Trust Report reveals that 41% of consumers are ‘reluctant sharers’.

Some delegates referred to their fear of overwhelming customers with hard-to-digest information about how their data is being used. Others mentioned a lack of a clear proposition for consumers. Best practice data management doesn’t necessarily translate into immediate for the average man in the street. That said, attitudes may well be changing. Our report also says that almost half (47%) would pay more for a privacy-friendly service.

A complicated value chain

As we all know, mobile internet businesses build on the work of other companies. It’s far more cost effective to increase functionality, accessibility and value via APIs than to start from scratch.

The downside of this multi-layer value-chain is that you are also inheriting third party data processing policies. It’s not easy to get a handle on what approaches other companies take in the ecosystem, and thus ensure compliance – let alone best practice.

Technology advances

Last but not least, the emergence of new technologies is posing a challenge to trust-building. The Internet of Things presents a world of well documented benefits, but what might be the impact on personal privacy when millions of devices and sensors are watching, recording and measuring our every move?

Mobile healthcare promises to revolutionise diagnosis, treatment and patient support around the world (and especially in poor nations). But the data collected will be of the utmost sensitivity – it’s crucial we don’t abuse consumers’ trust as services are rolled out.

Rimma2015Rimma Perelmuter



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Artificial Reality is still in its infancy but machine learning on such a massive scale might also present challenges to consumers. Exciting new services like driverless cars and personal assistants (step forward Siri and Cortana) are useless without huge volumes of personal data. Best practice privacy must be built in from the start, and security is paramount.

These challenges are neither trivial nor easily resolved. And yet if the benefits of this new world are to be fully realised, building trust in the use of personal data is the only path to sustainable growth in mobile.