Big Data is a matter of trust

John C. Tanner
18 Jun 2013

One of the recurring buzzwords at this year's CommunicAsia summit will be Big Data - i.e. the customer data that operators and OTT players alike are sitting on that, if crunched properly, can yield a wealth of personalized services and an overall better experience for customers and, of course, new revenues for service providers and advertisers.

However, earlier this month we were shown the dark side of Big Data courtesy of the US National Security Agency, which was revealed to have been vacuuming up wholesale phone-call metadata from Verizon for the past seven years, as well as running PRISM, a project that reportedly allows the NSA to collect private customer data from internet companies like Google and Facebook.

Plenty of digital ink has been typed about the civil liberties implications of both projects, some of it sensible, a lot of it hyperbole. On a professional level, my first reaction was to wonder how the US government would square this with its ongoing paranoia over allowing Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese companies to bid for American network infrastructure contracts over fears of espionage. ("If anyone's going to spy on our citizens, it's going to be us!")

I'm kidding. (Mostly.) But aside from the obvious civil liberties issues, the NSA-Verizon-PRISM flap could also impact service provider plans to leverage Big Data for commercial purposes.

We talk about Big Data all the time as a great enabler for personalized services and revenue opportunities. And while everyone knows at some level that customer data has to be used carefully to comply with data privacy regulations, what we forget is that most customers have no idea what Big Data is. Even customers who have had to deal with constant changes to Facebook privacy settings may only have an inkling of how big and rich their data footprint is, and how it can be used. Thanks to the NSA leaks, customers worldwide have been handed a Big Scary Picture of how much personal data is out there, and who wants access to it.

Think of it this way: a consumer survey from Ovum earlier this year found 68% of Internet users in 11 countries would opt for a "do-not-track" feature if it were available. Is that number likely to go up or down in the wake of the NSA news? The answer matters because the more people opt out, the less useful data operators have to monetize.

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