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Keeping it Private and Confidential : data protection challenges for mobile marketers

Data protection remains a key challenge for mobile marketers and advertisers. To spell out the issues for India --  from an Asian vantage point --, we turned to Fabrizio Caruso, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific, Out There Media, ( international leader in mobile advertising , reaching approximately 500 million mobile subscribers across the globe.

A recent Gartner report says that mobile handset sales in India are expected to reach 231 million units in 2012, a growth cycle that is expected to continue to rise through 2015. Competition between global and domestic manufacturers is fierce, with over 150 manufacturers competing for Indian consumers’ attention. There is no denying that mobile phones are very much a part of life in India. Mobile use in India is on the rise – it has become the second largest mobile market in the world, with 866 million mobile connections out of its over 900 million telephone connections. With mobile phones becoming so commonplace, this is truly the time for mobile to shine. Mobile in Asia is an extremely attractive proposition. Gartner estimates that mobile advertising will account for at least a third of advertising spend in Asia Pacific and Japan by 2015. According to Ovum, Asia Pacific mobile phone application downloads will exceed 5 billion by the end of 2011 – that’s a 189% increase over the 1.6 billion downloaded in 2010.
This is particularly true in India, where mobile advertising is taking off. According to InMobi, India is currently a $25 million market for mobile advertising, with the global mobile marketing industry expected to grow to $60-80 billion by 2014. By then, India is expected to have at least 250 million mobile internet users, against a global number of 4.5 billion. InMobi’s own survey indicates that around 70 per cent of respondents in India recognise the value of mobile advertising. There could be no better time for advertisers to capitalise on this interest in mobile. The opportunities are still there, provided that companies are able to capitalise upon them.
But the mobile channel has also caused a fair share of controversy. As people become used to this new and powerful media channel, they are coming up against issues of privacy and confidentiality that have never appeared before. This accounts for increased government oversight of the mobile space, particularly in Asia where mobile telecommunications has been (thus far) largely unregulated.
This is set to change. India’s “do not call” register, set up in 2007, has had some effect on cold-calling, and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has just put in place measures to limit users to 200 text messages per day, in an attempt to cut down on spam SMS messages. In a similar effort, Singapore has already announced consumer data protection laws that will come into effect next year.
These laws will affect primarily those companies that use the mobile channel to communicate with their customer base, or who plan to exploit the mobile space for mobile marketing or advertising. Sending out mass SMS blasts to large numbers of unsuspecting consumers in the hope of finding one or two receptive people is a mobile marketing strategy that no longer works.

Privacy is the biggest issue affecting mobile marketing and advertising in Asia. The protection of consumer data is uppermost in public awareness. Industry regulation and consumer adoption have taken care of the privacy issue in other media, and it is only the newness of the mobile channel that has turned privacy into an issue. Future mobile-centric applications and interfaces will include privacy protections as standard, and will probably utilise sophisticated encryption or other methods to protect consumer confidentiality. For the time being, marketers will have to include it as a key issue when making plans, and businesses could do no better than to consider it when planning a strategy to penetrate an Asian market.
The need has arisen for a more enlightened marketing practice, one which builds customer confidence by respecting privacy. A more strategic and targeted approach is called for, one that can accommodate legislative limitations. Out There Media’s own strategy is to embrace privacy and enshrine it as the centrepiece of marketing strategy. Our paradigm is for marketing to be a consensual, participatory affair, where consumers themselves decide whether to be marketed to, and agree to receive marketing material in exchange for privileges, points, discounts and the like. This is called opt-in marketing, a means to safeguard users’ privacy, and one that also empowers consumers to take charge of their own data.
When enrolling for the opt-in marketing programme, consumers decide what data to share, and indicate their interests at the same time. This provides marketers with a profile that they can use to achieve effective targeting. Consumers can choose to opt-out and stop receiving materials at any time. This ease of opt-out, while not mandated by law, is rapidly becoming an industry standard. The response to this more highly-targeted marketing method has been very positive, with conversion rates higher than other, more traditional methods, mainly because marketers are sending messages to a prepared, more receptive audience.

In addition, marketers continue to educate the market on the benefits of mobile advertising. Members of the Mobile Marketing Association, a leading industry organisation, adhere to a code of conduct that protects consumer privacy. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and perhaps the best demonstration of them all is ethical behaviour: mobile advertising need not automatically assault consumer privacy.
Asia’s relative economic prosperity leaves it positioned to be the leading market for mobile advertising at the global level – and naturally, as one of Asia’s largest mobile markets, India is on the crest of that wave. Already, the most innovative and interesting mobile marketing campaigns are beginning to surface as Indian creativity comes into play. This creativity will definitely help marketers find ways to stay connected to and engaged with consumers, while maintaining the confidentiality of their personal information and respecting their privacy.
In addition, self-regulation and industry standards will help to clarify the limitations around privacy and the use of consumers’ personal information. Once relevant legislation is in place, consumer confidence will return, enshrining privacy as an essential component of mobile marketing and advertising. Dec 12 2011