North American telcos (Canadian and U.S.) historically have faced more-stringent privacy rules and limitations on data mining than have applied to app providers such as Google, Facebook and other online app providers.
So it perhaps comes as no surprise that Bell Canada began asking its customers in December for permission to track everything they do with their home and mobile phones, internet, television, apps or any other services they get through Bell or its affiliates.
And that is one of the key issues for any telco that wants to mine its customer data for insights that can be used to build a targeted advertising business.
Key to the effort, apparently, is avoidance of divulging any personally-identifiable information. "Bell's marketing partners will not receive the personal information of program participants; we just deliver the offers relevant to the program participants on their behalf," Bell Canada says.
The big upside, some believe, is the ability to earn revenue by making targeted advertising available to the Bell Canada customer base, not just properties or content that Bell Canada might own.
Xandr and Verizon Verizon Media Group provide more evidence that at least some telcos believe they can leverage data to support advertising revenue streams. Just how successful they might eventually be is yet open to question.
In principle, mobile service providers and telcos have multiple data stores they could work with, provided they have customer permission to do so: video behavior, internet access behavior, mobile phone and perhaps fixed network calling behavior.
In the U.S. market, for example, it appears internet service providers can record and sell customer browsing history, data on which apps and services are used. How valuable that might be is among the questions one might ask, in the same way that one might question the value of call detail, in an era where most of the insight is related to internet content behavior.
Telcos process and possess lots of data. But some might question how much data telcos actually can use to support advertising and marketing services, given privacy regulations and the sorts of user actions they can track.
There seems to be less doubt about ability to use some of that data to improve operations. AT&T has mined data for years to wring business value on the operations side of the business (network management, fraud detection, perhaps churn management, customer service). What seems less clear is whether there is significant revenue-affecting upside.
Obviously call detail records, mobile location and data related to customer use of internet access services is the potential mine for revenue-generating or revenue-impacting value.
The issue is how much granularity is available for the internet and app use parts of the data mine, compared to calling or text message behavior; how long such data can be retained and analysed; and how the insights can be applied to advertising or other revenue-generating activities.