Contributed by Rohit Dadwal, Managing Director, Mobile Marketing Association Asia Pacific Limited

Rohit Dadwal

As any new form of media matures and becomes more commonplace, concerns inevitably arise about the possible effects on that media on society at large. Mobile phones and mobile telecommunications have come under scrutiny several times in the past, most noticeably for the possible health implications of mobile phone use. Right now, the concern that is arising revolves around consumer data protection and privacy. This is a substantial issue, made worse by the fact that even in mature markets that have tackled this issue with regards to the internet, no sure solution has been found.

The Singapore government has already announced its planned implementation of data protection laws, legislature that will curb the excessive and unnecessary collection of individuals’ personal data by businesses, and will include requirements such as obtaining the consent of individuals to disclose their personal information. Predicted to take effect early next year, these laws come at the right time for Singaporean mobile users who have experienced rising concerns over privacy, identity theft, and the improper use of consumers’ personal data.

The situation in other countries in Asia is much different. Telecoms Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Is facing increasing pressure from the public to control spam and identity theft. Indonesia is doing the same, looking at ways to control the spread of SMS spam while still leaving the market open. Each country in Asia is coming to terms with the fact that information is valuable, and is, accordingly, must be protected.

Naturally, as quickly as government agencies and corporate entities alike realise the value of consumers’ personal data, so do people with less honourable motives. It is becoming seems more and more common for such data to be misused, go missing, or leak into the wrong hands. Even developed nations have problems with this: the United Kingdom’s Identity and Passport Service (IPS) lost the personal data of both applicants and their counter-signatories for 21 applications in May 2010. This breach of the Data Protection Act was reported by the Information Commissioner’s Office in early February 2011, and the result is that the IPS has signed an undertaking to improve procedures, including staff training and data storage policies, as well as regular audits and inspections, to ensure that this incident does not occur again. This is a predictable response to citizen concerns about their data.

Perhaps the time has come for a new regulatory environment, one that is not limited to holding the private sector responsible for information. Governments have come to realise that they, too, hold large amounts of sensitive information, and in their rush to implement web services and useful mobile apps, they must also cross the same security and privacy hurdles that private enterprise has to face. If anything, governments come across more information as it is given to them in the course of regular civil bureaucracy, and perhaps cooperatively, as they develop security measures, those protections could be extended to the private sector, even as private enterprise is expected to conform to the same levels of confidentiality and privacy.

For the mobile space, this is particularly important, with new services being rolled out every day. Mobile devices are so personal, and so ubiquitous that more and more services are evolving around delivery of information (maps, for example, or restaurant reviews) as well as transactions, whether financial or otherwise.

People need to be confident that they can share their information without fear, in order for that information to be used to deliver the content that they want. Hiding your location information, for example, makes it impossible to deliver location-specific information about nearby places of interest or special offers available in the vicinity.

Trust is essential before companies can offer advanced services, and so far, self-regulation combined with various schemes that let consumers choose what (and how much) information to share, has been the best way to engender that trust.

Companies like Alcatel-Lucent have had great success with permission-based marketing to deliver electronic coupons, special offers and marketing material to mobile phone users who have opted-in and shared their preferences. Blyk also uses permission-based marketing, and connects young people to the events, celebrities, and brands of their choice.

Consumers will always be concerned about the protection of their information, and perhaps with both governments and enlightened public enterprise striving to create an environment of trust, the right frameworks will be built to keep them safe. Only when individuals, whether citizens or consumers, can choose where and how to share their data, with the confidence that that data will be treated with respect, will the full promise and potential of the mobile space be available to all.