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Personalization and Privacy: Can the Two Coexist?

By Kelly Anderson


In the past month, the media, both trade and mainstream, have been covering data privacy. I have read viewpoints ranging from never using any customer data to the point of not even recording or tracking data to the idea that all data is the sole product of the provider of the service. I can�t imagine what the layperson thinks the communications providers know about them. I suspect the opinion in this country is as polarized as the recent immigration discussion. On one side, we have someone like my father. I haven�t dared to discuss this with him, for fear that we would argue over the fact that Ma Bell is selling his social security number to people overseas. The other side probably pays no attention, figuring that the government knows every time we check out a library book. In either case, we are left with the consumers not really being informed about what purpose service usage data actually serves. I think education consisting of industry collaboration might be in order.

Usage is recorded for various purposes. The first and, probably, most obvious reason is billing. Collecting revenue for services rendered has been the mainstay of back office systems, accounting systems, revenue assurance, and the like. One way to surely justify a million dollar system and an industry-wide standard is the collection of funds in the quickest, most efficient way. In addition, consumers understand that; they know that their bill each month correlates directly to what services and products they consume. Where it gets tricky is when the business model no longer requires transactional accountability. Companies that need to fund industry endeavors don�t get it and, even further, consumers don�t get it.

One item that seems to have appeared on the radar of the privacy news page is the host of new video and IPTV (News - Alert) services that will offer personalized aspects of service. This may include offering free videos each month of a like category or having advertising pushed to your set that you will be most likely to buy. While a great business concept, this idea is a little scary to the average consumer. Imagine a message flashing on your screen informing you that you have two free movies available to you this month that are of a slightly personal nature. How would you feel? How can a valued service like this exist while not feeling like a stuffy telecom executive is sitting in your living room? As it is with most things, it would depend on the application. Being able to offer quality programming and content that is appreciated by the audience will take careful application and execution.

Personally, I appreciated the call I got a year ago to inform me of a $24.95 flat rate calling plan instead of a $200 usage bill. I dare say it changed my life in that I no longer watch the clock or give a second thought to picking up the phone. I appreciate that this company saved me $175 per month for the past year. That is the kind of personalization I like. The bottom line on personalization is that if a company can save time or money for their customers and let them feel like they are not being violated, then personalization and privacy can coexist as equals.

But, personalization requires information, which is where it can get scary. In most cases, this data is a normal part of functioning for a communications provider. Most of the data required for personalization is already required for other service delivery mechanisms like traffic analysis, fraud control, billing, capacity management, and customer service. I believe the average consumer would expect most providers know that service data is used to enhance services. This data is mostly looked at in the aggregate and is individualized only by account number or other internal identification criteria. I think most consumers feel their provider should know how and when they use the service for support and dispute resolution.

Information requirements for the personalization of services are becoming complex as more advanced services, such as multimedia and video, are rolled out. Time and duration stamping on the record is no longer applicable for many of the newer services. The industry has taken slow steps to get a standard that will satisfy the service and now is the time to increase that initiative. Many industry standard organizations have beefed up their agendas to include data transfer requirements, settlement standards, and usage requirements. The time could not be better. I encourage organizations that are offering services that require extensive content negotiation and delivery to consider joining one of these efforts. The time and resources it requires will pay off in an efficient and substantive standard that can ease implementation and allow partnerships to happen with minimal setup time. A cohesive approach to usage data will serve the industry and keep consumers informed. Do I believe that personalization and privacy can coexist? The answer is a resounding �Yes.� With the right application of data that comes from the industry working together to create a unified approach, personalization will be a win for everyone. IT

Kelly Anderson is President and COO of For more information, please visit the consortium online at


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