What OTT privacy means for Big Data

11 Feb 2014

If the whole object of Big Data is to collect user data in the name of highly personalized ads and services, take note: some start-up companies are pushing back with smartphones, web browsers and search engines that will help users stay anonymous.

Take for example the “Blackphone” an upcoming Android smartphone from a JV between Spanish smartphone manufacturer Geeksphone and Silent Circle, a software company started by Phil Zimmerman (inventor of the PGP encryption software) to develop apps that encrypt voice and SMS.

Geeksphone says the object of Blackphone is to give users far more control over what data is collected about them, Technology Review reports:

To that end, the Web browser on the Blackphone will, by default, block ad-tracking technology served up by websites. The Wi-Fi functionality will also be modified so that the handset won’t be tracked by the beacons starting to appear in stores to collect information on how often customers visit and where they have been previously. Silent Circle’s software will also be built into the handset so that calls and text messages to other users of Blackphone or Silent Circle’s services will be encrypted.

The Blackphone can still receive targeted ads, but only if the user gives permission. That’s a reversal from the current model under which smartphone apps and browsers track your every move by default.

The article also mentions companies like Pogoplug and Adtrap, which block ads from appearing on devices, as well as search engine DuckDuckGo, which collects minimal data compared to Google, and has reportedly seen usage double since last year’s NSA revelations.

What does all this mean for Big Data?

Probably not much – at least for now. Google’s dominance in the search and smartphone OS space is massive enough that start-ups will barely register a blip on the radar.

On the other hand, there’s the apps space, where developers are also working on apps that allow people to post things via social networks anonymously. Examples include Whisper, Secret and Snapchat (the latter of which allows you to send messages that self-destruct after reading).

That’s aimed more at people who don’t care for the “real name” rules of Facebook and Twitter, and want to post things that can’t be traced back to themselves (by their employer, say). Still, according to TR, such apps are gaining a rapid following – and attracting millions in VC funding.

If nothing else, it could represent a twist in the Big Data narrative in that we usually think of telcos giving users the option of opting in or out of targeted advertising. It’s possible that the apps space could put that control in the hands of users instead.

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