Can users trust telecom providers with their digital identities?

15 Oct 2009

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In a world where our lives are becoming increasingly digital – with more and more personal data existing online – Nokia Siemens Networks has found that growing numbers of consumers are comfortable with telcos managing their digital selves.

A global survey by Nokia Siemens shows internet users are increasingly concerned about the use – and misuse – of the data that comprises their ‘"digital self".

According to the study, communications service providers are among the organisations consumers most trust with their personal data.

Confidence in communications service providers

The personal data privacy study, commissioned by Nokia Siemens Networks and unveiled at Futurecom 2009 in São Paulo this week, finds consumers have high confidence in communications service providers (CSPs) as guardians of their digital selves, as well as significant interest in using them as a "one-stop shop" to supervise their personal data.

Around half of the survey respondents believe the company that provides them with fixed or mobile-communications services could be a "useful partner" in helping them to manage and protect their own digital-self data.

The survey – consisting of 9,200 interviews conducted in 14 countries – aimed to clarify consumer attitudes towards the use of the data that constitutes an individual’s digital self.

What makes up digital "fingerprints"

This is made up of the sum of a consumer’s digital “fingerprints”, the fragmented personal and behavioural data left behind every time they interact with a service through their service provider, such as browsing a website using their mobile phone, as well as personal profile information, including their experiences, needs and behaviours, that reside within business and customer-relationship management systems. 

The results of the survey show considerable concern among consumers about the use of digital-self data, with 82pc of respondents seeing privacy as an important topic, 76pc being concerned about privacy violations, and 45pc feeling they lack control over their personal data.

However, 69pc of respondents said they were interested in using a single portal to manage and supervise the various permissions they had provided to different parties to access their personal data.

Survey’s trustworthy organisations

The survey also found that CSPs were among the most trusted organisations regarding an individual’s privacy and data security. In fact, CSPs ranked ahead of insurance companies, online portals, loyalty-card providers, governments and online shops and communities in the minds of end-users.

“Telecoms companies have long-standing relationships with their customers. They are bound by service-level agreements and billing relationships, and have deep customer insight,” said Paul Magelli, head of subscriber data management, Nokia Siemens Networks.

“The results of this global survey demonstrate that CSPs are suited, and more importantly trusted, to help make the fragmented personal data of an individual – their digital self – more tangible and easier to manage.”

Groups of respondents

Based on the survey results, respondents fall into three groups: The ‘Afraid’ seek to protect their digital self by minimising the disclosure of this information; the ‘Selective’ are pragmatic and generally more willing to embrace privacy risks in return for added value; and the ‘Uninvolved’ tend to be younger, less likely to own a credit card and lack awareness of privacy issues.

There were significant variations as to the proportion of each group within regional samples, with countries such as Germany, Australia and Canada generally having the highest proportion of the ‘Afraid’ (49-44pc), and China and Taiwan having the least (23-24pc).

Outlook globally

In Brazil, the survey revealed a number of variations to the overall global results. A majority – 53pc – of Brazilian participants were found to be in the advanced ‘Selective’ group, only Egypt, China and Taiwan had a higher proportion.

This may explain the dramatically higher levels of comfort when the personal data to be disclosed was less detailed such as: general whereabouts as opposed to exact location; general age group versus exact date of birth; and income level versus monthly income.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, interest in a portal to manage all their permissions was thus significantly higher than the global average, with 80pc of Brazilians describing this approach as something they would be interested in. 

The Nokia Siemens Networks privacy study was carried out in September 2009 and aimed to understand the attitudes, motives, perceptions and behaviours of end users towards privacy; their readiness to allow the usage of their digital-self data by CSPs and third parties; and their willingness to share that data in the context of the value they could derive from doing so.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Internet users are increasingly concerned about the use – and misuse – of the data that comprises their ‘"digital self", a global survey by Nokia Siemens suggests.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com