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April 08, 2008



Tomi, great provocative and detailed piece.

But, as any "user" may think while reading it, what about privacy in this digital footprint and digital context collection?

The entity collecting and using this information has too great power over individuals... Even if it is used only for targetting a new kind of advertisements and finally trigger a conversation, what could be the safe-guards and the "sous-surveillance" mechanisms that would avoid someone else (e.g. criminal entity) to obtain such info about the "user"?

Hannu Ripatti

Thanks for this, great ideas!

Wouldn't a system like the one you describe actually turn most, if not all, advertising into customer service? If enough data has been gathered there is no need to advertise, as you can figure out what the person really needs/desires by looking at the data.

It might actually be very hard to get people to try new things, because the things that they are familiar and comfortable with would always be available on cue.

Javier Marti

Excellent post, thank you Tomi.
It is a great time to invest in those companies that will manage all this information.

>> But, as any "user" may think while reading it, what about privacy in this digital footprint and digital context collection?

Privacy will be much harder to keep not only from the government, but also from hackers in the future. I think that in the rush to offer these services before competitors, security concerns are being put aside on mobile even more than they were on the PC era.

>> The entity collecting and using this information has too great power over individuals...

It does

>> Even if it is used only for targetting a new kind of advertisements and finally trigger a conversation

It won't be. That information is far too valuable to be left only in the hands of advertisers. Besides, as govs and the private sector merge into one, the trend is towards the sharing of that information in real time by all parties that can their hands on it.

On a social level, it may be almost impossible to "opt out of the system". If taxes, fines, unemployment benefits, are paid or charged through mobiles...if our money, census identity, professional and medical history are tied to our mobile phones in such a powerful way, anyone wanting to opt out may be labelled "antisocial", or a terrorist.
We shall hear the same old "After all, if you have nothing to hide, why wouldn't you want to carry a phone with you?"
And remember that the same way that advertisers can target your social circle to identify potential customers, governments can use this information to identify -rightly or wrongly- your "associates".


Javier Marti

Jouko Ahvenainen

I agree very much with Tomi. Anyway, I would like to emphasize that these digital identities work also on profile levels, so that you don’t have to know individuals or their phone numbers, but you can know customer profiles and then link or predict to which profile each individual belongs to. And this we have implemented many times (check

Tomi Ahonen

Hi Cooli, Hannu, Javier and Jouko

Thank you for the comments

Cooli - good point and very central to the proposition. To start with, today we already have far more intrusive means to spy on us - cookies on our PCs spying for all kinds of internet providers. If you set your PC to block all cookies, you'll be amazed to see how many try to infiltrate your life on one day, not to mention the lifespan of the PC..

But yes, the next point is the "best case" scenario. As I've written several times, as an industry, we have to go and get the customer's explicit permission. That may seem like a horribly tedious and unfulfilling task - as if we'd want to welcome spam and junk mail or accept marketing calls to our home phone. But its the job of the marketer to find those customers willing to do it, and offer them honest, real value propositions why to accept.

Take the Rolling Stones. If they ask their live audience fans, would they like to join their fan club, via mobile - of course they all would say yes. These would NEVER think of the marketing communications directed at them by the Rolling Stones, as advertising. It would be seen as content. If we start from permission-based, then we have the explicit permission of our audiences, not like they now try to do secretly via cookies on the internet.

But then there is the standard way around it - as Jouko already wrote, they do with his company Xtract for example - which is profiling. If Vodafone, my UK mobile phone service provider, notices that Tomi Ahonen's phone spends an aweful lot of time abroad, and often in Hong Kong - perhaps he is an international traveller. His phone behaviour fits the pattern of such a person. Create a profile for it, set parameters, then find services that such customers will appreciate, and offer those to all who fit that profile.

What do I mean. Of course the obvious - roaming voice and data services naturally. But how about this - allow me to control sleep times and zones for interruptions - that calls and text messages will not ring on my phone when I sleep in a different time zone. I'll still see who called, and the messages can be sent in the morning. Sometimes I will appreciate this, but not always (I might be on a rush job, late into the night, and be expecting incoming messages or calls). So services that are tuned to international travellers, and offer those to all who fit that profile. Nothing illegal about that at all. And we already get the international travel announcements when we turn on our phones abroad, so this is a natural, not offending any travelling users...

But they aren't that sophisticated yet, ha-ha, I wait and wait by the phone, and my vodafone is simply not noticing how this Tomi Ahonen moves with the mobile phone... :-)

The worst case - is like you said, not only unwittingly bad services and interruptions, but what of malicious use - hackers etc stealing this data and abusing it... Is also bound to happen, its a digital age and many in this industry are not aware of how much the info needs to be safeguarded..

Hannu - good points, both. First yes, I totally agree. I've been encouraging mobile marketing and advertising professionals to think that way - to turn from interruption to content. MTV music videos are a classic exmaple. In the 1970s, before the first MTV channel went on the air in the USA, there were "film clips" of 3.5 minutes in length, that big rock and pop bands of the time - David Bowie, Queen, Abba, Rolling Stones - etc would send around the world to various TV shows, when they released their newest album or single. These were very legitmately advertisements for the music, to promote sales of the records and tapes. They were the early pop videos. Then came MTV in 1982 and launched a 24 hour channel to show these ads - 24 hours of music - where other "real" advertisers like Coca Cola, Nike, McDonalds and Levi's would then buy ad time - to show ads in content that consisted 100% of advertising...

Yes, advertising can transcend into content, if it is appropriately targeted. Of course there were many people - usually older people - who thought that was not music. The only real music was performed on stage, and these lip-synching pop music film clips/music videos were ruining popular music...

About not finding new? I think there is also a part of society, some people, who are always more curious about the new, than the current - so they will be our pathfinders to the new, they will trial the unknown brands and weird new things, and then tell us - through word-of-mouth - what are best, what we might like, etc...

Javier - very good points, very good... I especially liked that vision of the near future - yes why object, if you have something to hide, and that those who actively seek to be outside the system, will then tend to be the undesirables, the mafia, the terrorists, the hookers and pimps and other criminals. And those who fit that pattern but are normal people - will soon start to get that feedback, that why are you doing this, are you also a criminal...

There is somewhat that in Japan today. Almost all mobile phone accounts are post-pay (contract) accounts, and only a percent or so are prepaid (Pay-as-you-go or top-up) accounts. So of course the Japanese mafia uses these to be more invisible to law enforcement, and then if a "normal" person gets a prepaid account - then others will ask, what is wrong with you, are you also a criminal...

Jouko - thank you for stopping by, obviously you guys at Xtract are very far in the practical commercial implementation of this concept, especially the social context side of it - and work with dozens of leading companies around the world with that, so you guys know very well. I'm looking forward greatly to the presentation Xtract will make at the Forum Oxford conference on April 18 in Oxford, to hear the latest of your thinking..

Thank you all for writing

Tomi Ahonen :-)

David Cushman

Hi Tomi, another monumental post.
I think I agree with your dissection of identity and I think I have identified a fundamental structural issue for those who would attempt to engage with the networked world using a personal-data-heavy approach.
Blogged about it here:

best dc

C. Enrique Ortiz

Excellent piece Tomi. I totally believe with what you have written here; it is the next step forward in mobile. From context (which includes the social context), to the ability to influence based on all the above...


Paulo de Carvalho

Hi Tomi,

Brilliant post, starts the issue of what’s to mine and why. The drawbacks are confidentiality and privacy issues.

When you discuss context I would say Contexts – every one deals with several contexts with potential different needs.
Identifying contexts is and important issue
My Home context; My vacation Context; My Studding context; My working Context
different “me’s” and different needs.

Needs is a key concept, I thing that Selling is a wrong word and even publicity is not a perfect word. The true value is in mining needs (or desires). Publicity could be better targeted if intention focused in addressing a need. The true value of managing needs will be the ability to target solutions towards those needs.

Tim Paul

The centralizing of this identity data is what Liberty Alliance (IBM, Sun, Oracle is backing), OpenID (AOL and Sprint examples of endorsement), and CardSpace/InfoCard (Microsoft's answer) is trying to do. These solutions are exactly trying to address the problems of keeping identity secure and invisible from others. For example, you would know the characteristics of an identity (the marketing examples above) but not "personal" information, they may not even know your name, address, etc - and yes, its possible not even your phone number (even though this is what is being used to transmit to you via SMS). It is very interesting technology, with some innovative approaches to a complex problem. If anyone is interested I can post more details on how the different solutions work and the pro's/cons.

Hi David, CEO, Paulo and Tim

Thank you all for writing. I'm sorry it took me so long to get back to this discussion (its been a hectic several weeks)

David, CEO - thanks!

Paulo - great comment, I have to start to use that, not context, but contexts.

Tim - excellent, thanks. We'll need to monitor it.

Thank you for writing

Tomi :-)


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