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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Mobile context firewalls - aggregated mobile membership clubs??

An interesting thought occurred to me about how mobile advertisers hoping to exploit individuals' context might be disrupted. I keep hearing about how the unique personal nature of mobile phones will enable advertisers to target "the segment of one", and to quote Arun Sarin "we know who you are. We know what your age is. We know where you live. We know a lot of things about you".

Now to be fair, Sarin has also said that operators should be responsible about using contextual information, and even reward users for sharing it and opting-in. This is what Blyk does as well - you get free calls in exchange for giving away some element of your privacy.

But I wonder how the boundary will flex, between what is "responsible" and what is desirable by a marketing guy up against the end of the quarter. Knowing the industry's propensities for pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable until forced otherwise (eg on roaming charges, and previously on number portability), it wouldn't surprise me if there is the occasional mismatch in the perception of 'reasonableness' between operator/advertiser and end user.

I'm wondering if one of the best ways for users to collectively protect their privacy, and also get extra benefits (and a greater share of advertising revenue kick-backs) would be to organise into membership organisations for mobile services. Almost like affinity-group MVNOs, but without the need for a wholesale agreement.

Let's say that a Mobile Membership Club is established with 10,000 members. It could then attempt to negotiate discounted group mobile tariffs, similar to an enterprise. It could even potentially get customised handset UIs or applications, administer its own number ranges, perhaps even host its own services.

And it could act as a sort of "context firewall" by not identifying mobile user #7356. Obviously the network would still be able to guess quite a bit, by looking at location, usage patterns etc. But they wouldn't be able to pin the user to a specific name or address or demographic, unless the user or club decided to share that information. Obviously, for legal reasons, they'd have to identify a user to law enforcement officials, in the same way that an enterprise mobile account holder could be forced to identify an employee.

In fact, it may even be possible for the mobile membership club to switch user IDs inside its "private network" so that it would be even more difficult to identify people from outside. A sort of mobile equivalent of the Internet's dynamically-allocated IP addresses, with a NAT (network address translation) unit...

Now let's further wonder what might happen if the aggregator was titled something like "Facebook Users' Wireless Alliance" or "Google Mobile Club".....

(Yes, I know this is all competely speculative & rather difficult to do in practice. But I quite like the notion of disruption and re-intermediation where privacy and context ownership is concerned. If someone wants my context, they ought to pay me - or my agent - for it)

Edit - a bit of digging led me to other examples of consumer-oriented collective purchasing (or "Crowd Clout" as this very interesting page puts it). Apparently it's already happening at a basic level for discounted mobile phones & services in Holland, or the "tuangou" team-purchase philosophy in China. Now let's see if it can be spiced up with a bit more technology akin to one of the enterprise mobility gateways....

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