Telefónica to create personal data bank for customers, expose “unfair” apps

Telefónica, big data

Telefónica is to create a personal data bank for each of its 350 million customers to store, manage and sell their own data.

The Spain-based operator said it wanted to give customers back control of the data they generate on its networks.

A simple traffic-light tool will expose how third party internet applications and services propose to use data, while customers will be able to choose to cash-in personal data by selling it to third parties, and to port their private data stores to other network operators should they choose to switch providers.

Chema Alonso, Chief Data Officer at Telefónica, told European Communications: “The relationship between those generating data and those brokering it, and making money from it, is often unfair. We are not in the business of selling data. 

“We provide a service, and we want to be transparent. The data our customers generate on our networks belongs to them.

“We want to give that data back to them, along with all the potential value it generates.”

Telefónica reckons there are currently 500,000 apps on the Google Play Store that collect private location-based information, as well as data containing the identity of users’ various email and social media accounts. 

The exchange of data, for services rendered, might be considered a fair one in some cases, but internet users rarely understand the permissions they have signed up to.

“Users want more transparency. The current model of selling privacy through a 55-page terms-and-conditions document is no longer sustainable,” said Alonso.

John Foster, Director of Strategy at Telefónica Digital, explained: “We trust Facebook, and certain others, but what about the rest of them – the ones in the long tail that are barely scraping a living, which are many and hard pressed, and are using data for purposes we wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable with?”

Telefónica’s cyber security unit Eleven Paths has developed an application, called TACYT, which maps internet applications against the access and permissions they seek.

The operator will use this database to create a guidance system, in the style of nutritional labelling on food packaging, to warn customers about the services they install.

“Think about the traffic light information on food, which distils this very complex nutritional information,” explained Foster.

“So, Facebook wants access to your camera and phone? That’s fine, because we know what it’s for.

“But that flashlight app wants access to your contacts and location? That’s bad. That’s a red traffic light.”

Telefónica will flesh out the proposition at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, with a view to introducing it in 2018, in time with the new General Data Protection Regulation, which updates and harmonises privacy laws across the continent.

Alsono, speaking after his keynote at the WIRED2016 event, said Telefónica’s proposals go much further.

“You will know exactly every single piece of data Telefónica has about you,” he said.

“All the data you generate on the network will be placed in one single place, your personal data bank.

“But we’re not just giving you access; we’re giving you control.

“You will be able to take your data to another provider if you move, or share it with someone else on the internet if you think it’s a fair deal, and you want to do that.”

The move will also help leading internet companies, according to the exec, as customers become more discerning about the deals they are striking with their data.

“For them, it’s not bad; it’s a perfect thing,” Alonso said.

“The likes of Facebook and Google are offering a fair deal. They’re not worried at all.

“We’re not fighting against them – we’re not telling anyone Facebook isn’t a worthy app.

“We’ve explained to them in detail what we’re going to do, and they’ve said, ‘okay, I like it.’

“Because if no one is stealing data, as it were, then the industry will be healthier.” 

Telefónica said it expects the wider operator community to follow its lead, and join its initiative.

“We are in discussions with them. We have the same kind of data, and data models.

“We already work closely with them on number porting, and things like that.

“We have been doing this a lot of years, and we think the same way,” said Alonso.

This is an extract from an interview that will appear in Q4 issue of European Communications magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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