Personal data: Treasure or trash?

(Re)Connecting with Consumers

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Telefónica’s systematic and sustained push into personal data management holds valuable lessons for other telcos about building trust and credibility. The report also covers personal cloud / data plays by NTT DOCOMO and financial services company Mint.

Introduction

This report analyses how the Telefónica Group is looking to reshape the digital services market so that both telcos and individuals play a greater role in the management of personal data. Today, most Internet users share large amounts of personal information with the major online platforms: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Tencent and Alibaba. In many cases, this process is implicit and somewhat opaque – the subject of the personal data isn’t fully aware of what information they have shared or how it is being used. For example, Facebook users may not be aware that the social network tracks their location and can, in some cases, trace a link between offline purchases and its online advertising.

Beyond the tactical deployment of personal data to personalise their services and advertising, the major Internet players increasingly use behavioural data captured by their services to train machine learning systems how to perform specific tasks, such as identify the subject of an image or the best response to an incoming message. Over time, the development of this kind of artificial intelligence will enable much greater levels of automation saving both consumers and companies time and money.

Like many players in the digital economy and some policymakers, Telefónica is concerned that artificial intelligence will be subject to a winner-takes-all dynamic, ultimately stifling competition and innovation. The danger is that the leading Internet platforms’ unparalleled access to behavioural data will enable them to develop the best artificial intelligence systems, giving them an unassailable advantage over newcomers to the digital economy.

This report analyses Telefónica’s response to this strategic threat, as well as examining the actions of NTT DOCOMO, another telco that has sought to break the stranglehold of the Internet platforms on personal data. Finally, it considers whether Mint, a web service that has succeeded in persuading millions of Americans to share very detailed financial information, could be a model for telco’s personal data propositions.

As well as revisiting some of the strategic themes raised in STL Partners’ 2013 digital commerce strategy report, this report builds on the analysis in three recent STL Partners’ executive briefings that explore the role of telcos in digital commerce:

In pursuit of personal cloud services

For the best part of a decade, STL Partners has been calling for telcos to give customers greater control over their personal data. In doing so, telcos could differentiate themselves from most of the major Internet players in the eyes of both consumers and regulators. But now, the entire digital economy is moving in this direction, partly because the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires companies operating in the EU to give consumers more control and partly because of the outcry over the cavalier data management practices of some Internet players, particularly Facebook.

In a world in which everyone is talking about protecting personal data and privacy, is there still scope for telcos to differentiate themselves and strengthen their relationships with consumers?

In a strategy report published in October 2013, STL Partners argued that there were two major strategic opportunities for telcos in the digital commerce space:

  1. Real-time commerce enablement: The use of mobile technologies and services to optimise all aspects of commerce. For example, mobile networks can deliver precisely targeted and timely marketing and advertising to consumer’s smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions.
  2. Personal cloud: Act as a trusted custodian for individuals’ data and an intermediary between individuals and organisations, providing authentication services, digital lockers and other services that reduce the risk and friction in every day interactions. An early example of this kind of service is financial services web site Mint.com (profiled in this report). As personal cloud services provide personalised recommendations based on individuals’ authorised data, they could potentially engage much more deeply with consumers than the generalised decision-support services, such as Google, TripAdvisor, moneysavingexpert.com and comparethemarket.com, in widespread use today.

Back in October 2013, STL Partners saw those two opportunities as inter-related — they could be combined in a single platform. The report argued that telcos should start with mobile commerce, where they have the strongest strategic position, and then use the resulting data, customer relationships and trusted brand to expand into personal cloud services, which will require high levels of investment.

Today, telcos’ traction in mobile commerce remains limited — only a handful of telcos, such as Safaricom, Turkcell, KDDI and NTT Docomo, have really carved out a significant position in this space. Although most telcos haven’t been able or willing to follow suit, they could still pursue the personal cloud value proposition outlined in the 2013 report. For consumers, effective personal cloud services will save time and money. The ongoing popularity of web comparison and review services, such as comparethemarket.com, moneysavingexpert.com and TripAdvisor, suggests that consumers continue to turn to intermediaries to help through them cut through the “marketing noise” on the Internet. But these existing services provide limited personalisation and can’t necessarily join the dots across different aspects of an individual’s lives. For example, TripAdvisor isn’t necessarily aware that a user is a teacher and can only take a vacation during a school holiday.

STL Partners believes there is latent demand for trusted and secure online services that act primarily on behalf of individuals, providing tailored advice, information and offers. This kind of personal cloud could evolve into a kind of vendor relationship management service, using information supplied by the individual to go and source the most appropriate products and services.

The broker could analyse a combination of declared, observed and inferred data in a way that is completely transparent to the individual. This data should be used primarily to save consumers time and give them relevant information that will enrich their lives. Instead of just putting the spotlight on the best price, as comparison web sites do, personal cloud services should put the spotlight on the ‘right’ product or service for the individual.

Ideally, a mature personal cloud service will enrich consumers’ lives by enabling them to quickly discover products, services and places that are near perfect or perfect for them. Rather than having to conduct hours of research or settle for second-best, the individual should be able to use the service to find exactly the right product or service in a few minutes. For example, an entertainment service might alert you to a concert by an upcoming band that fits closely with your taste in music, while a travel site will know you like quiet, peaceful hotels with sea views and recommend places that meet that criteria.

As a personal cloud service will need to be as useful as possible to consumers, it will need to attract as many merchants and brands as possible. In 2013, STL Partners argued that telcos could do that by offering merchants and brands a low risk proposition: they will be able to register to have their products and services included in the personal cloud for free and they will only have to pay commission if the consumer actually purchases one of their products and services. In the first few years, in order to persuade merchants and brands to actually use the site the personal cloud will have to charge a very low commission and, in some cases, none at all.

Since October 2013, much has changed. But the personal cloud opportunity is still valid and some telcos continue to explore how they can get closer to consumers. One of the most prominent of these is Madrid-based Telefónica, which has operations in much of Europe and across Latin America. The next chapter outlines Telefónica’s strategy in the personal data domain.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Recommendations for telcos
  • Introduction
  • In pursuit of personal cloud services
  • Telefonica’s personal data strategy
  • Questioning the status quo
  • Backing blockchains
  • Takeaways
  • What is Telefónica actually doing?
  • The Aura personal assistant
  • Takeaways
  • Telefonica’s external bets
  • Investment in Wibson
  • Partnership with People.io
  • The Data Transparency Lab
  • Takeaways
  • Will Telefónica see financial benefits?
  • Takeaways
  • What can Telefónica learn from DOCOMO?
  • DOCOMO’s Evolving Strategy
  • Takeaways
  • Mint – a model for a telco personal data play?
  • Takeaways

Figures:

  • Figure 1: Telefónica’s tally of active users of the major apps
  • Figure 2: Telefónica’s view of digital market openness in Brazil
  • Figure 3: Investors’ valuation of Internet platforms implies long-term dominance
  • Figure 4: Key metrics for Telefónica’s four platforms
  • Figure 5: How Wibson intends to allow individuals to trade their data
  • Figure 6: Telefónica’s digital services business is growing steadily
  • Figure 7: Telefónica’s pay TV business continues to expand
  • Figure 8: DOCOMO’s Smart Life division has struggle to grow
  • Figure 9: NTT DOCOMO’s new strategy puts more emphasis on enablers
  • Figure 10: DOCOMO continues to pursue the concept of a personal assistant
  • Figure 11: DOCOMO is using personal data to enable new financial services
  • Figure 12: Mint provides users with advice on how to manage their money
  • Figure 13: Intuit sees Mint as a strategically important engagement tool