Protecting subscribers' information a key element of mobile advertising

** As published in FierceWireless ** Mobile advertising has had its share of fits and starts. It hasn’t really taken off–and not for lack of want or opportunity, but rather confusion and a justifiable perception that wireless subscribers’ personal information could land into the wrong hands. How can network providers overcome the perception that advertising might impede on customer privacy? Mike Wehrs, president and CEO of the Mobile Marketing Association, said it’s all about disclosure. Network providers should make their privacy disclosures permanent and readily available, he said. End users also need to feel like are in control through a simple opt-in or opt-out mechanism, and be given the ability to purge all the information that’s been held about them.

“I think the best way for providers to sort of bridge this privacy gap with consumers is to give as much useful information as possible,” said Amina Fazlullah, legislative counsel at U.S. PIRG, an organization that is a group of public interest research groups (PIRG) that advocates consumer privacy protection. By that she means network providers should clearly explain how that data is being used, who has access to it and for what purpose. “Most of the anxieties consumers have around privacy issues have to do with the fact that they don’t know how businesses will use the personal information entrusted to them,” wrote David Mazur, an attorney at MasurLaw and a member of the board of the Mobile Entertainment Forum. “Spell out your data collection practices clearly and concisely.” Adam Broitman, a digital marketing guru and partner at Circ.us, said the majority of consumers will never embrace advertising, and so it’s really about acceptance. “Once you put the onus back on the consumer to do something, nine out of 10 will do nothing. I think it’s all about transparency, education and offering” controls to the end users, he added. There are a few steps that should be taken to secure any information collected on mobile subscribers. Wehrs at MMA says carriers and third parties have to “behave in a responsible, self-governing way.” Not surprisingly, the MMA has developed guidelines to address these very concerns. There is “already ample legislation on the books” to deal with personally identifiable information, he said. Indeed, that is one of the most important issues–subscriber data has to be cloaked in anonymity. Anything that can be traced back to an individual is not legal, said Lisa Ciangiulli, head of personalized and interactive IPTV advertising for Alcatel-Lucent. The infrastructure vendor recently completed a research study that found consumers between the ages of 13 and 35 are more accepting of advertising when they are given controls, particularly if a strong relationship exists between the consumer and the content in question. By not clearly stipulating what information is gathered on customers and what purpose it serves, network providers put too much of the onus on consumers, Fazlullah said. “Unlike online advertising that people see on their laptop at home, they’ve got a special hurdle to jump because mobile advertising has the capacity to know where you are at any moment,” she said. “It sort of crosses this line between creepy and useful at the same time.” One thing’s for sure, according to Circ.us’ Broitman: If a network provider accidentally leaked personally identifiable data on its customers, “it would punch a hole in the whole system.” One simple gesture he suggested carriers do would be to offer a token discount to customers that opt-in. That might go a long way in driving adoption of mobile advertising.