Rohit DadwalWith the mobile device becoming our constant companion in business as well as in our personal lives and the mobile web becoming more pervasive, it’s not surprising that privacy and data protection issues are a key and rising concern. According to Rohit Dadwal, managing director, Mobile Marketing Association, Asia Pacific, current internet marketing and privacy standards do not adequately address the specific challenges faced by marketers when marketing through the mobile channel.

Dadwal recently took part in a panel discussion titled ‘Best Practices and the Law: Privacy and Data Protection in Mobile Marketing’ at Asia Business Forum’s ‘Asia Mobile Marketing & Advertising Conference that was held at Singapore’s Conrad Centennial Hotel on the 14th and 15th of September. Moderated by Domenico Pezzaniti, head of DMAS’ Mobile Marketing Council and CEO of Singapore-based Beepcast Pte Ltd, the overall theme of the discussion was that there is a need for strong mobile industry privacy principles that will protect the mobile channel from abuses by unethical marketers, and limit consumer backlash and additional regulatory scrutiny.

Key takeaways of the session included:

  • It is critical for the consumers’ interests to be protected
  • We need to be careful of the amount of data being captured and how it is being used post the campaigns - being purged, etc
  • Privacy is a concern all members of the ecosystem share and are working to protect
  • Regulatory bodies are very keen to help put policies and guidelines in place to avoid any embarrassment to the industry
  • Consumer best practice around ‘Opt-in’ is being looked at as a good first step in addressing the concerns related to privacy and data protection
  • Permission based marketing and advertising is prevalent in most of the developed markets and has generally shown greater acceptance in the industry

Since industry growth without consumer satisfaction is not sustainable, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) is particularly focused on issues of consumer protection and privacy. The association strives to align its members and industry stakeholders with consumers’ needs and wants to ensure a positive mobile experience. For consumers, there is a growing need to be able to trust the mobile interactions they receive on their handset. “If that trust isn’t there, then the chances are they’ll hit the ‘delete’ button at every opportunity,” states Dadwal.

He adds that the challenge for the mobile industry is clear: “We need to work together to build trust, as well as set and communicate the rules of engagement between consumers and mobile marketers, to ensure that mobile marketing continues to be a positive way to engage.”

“The concepts of privacy and the interrelationship between targeting and inappropriate use of mobile marketing are very important. But, it should be taken into account that the elimination of all elements of targeting actually opens the floodgates for spammers. Of course, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the gathering of too much consumer information is an invasion of personal privacy that we need to ensure does not ever develop. We need to find a balance between these two extremes – to come to a position where individuals have a profile of dislikes and habits that advertisers could review and use to guide their actions that the consumer will truly appreciate the results of. The most important element is ensuring that the consumer is always in control of their interactions with brands,” Dadwal elaborates.

The MMA believes that strong consumer privacy standards are essential to the success of mobile marketing by protecting mobile users from unwanted communications on their mobile devices. It is only through industry support of strong privacy guidelines that the power of mobile marketing can reach its full potential. At the same time, mobile marketers must implement reasonable technical, administrative and physical procedures to protect user information collected in connection with mobile marketing programmes from unauthorized use, alteration, disclosure, distribution or access.

With mobile phones becoming more and more sophisticated, allowing Internet surfing, file and picture transferring, alongside many other day-to-day applications, new security risks are something all mobile users will have to face and contend with. As Dadwal points out,: mobile phones are slowly starting to take over from laptops as the most popular device for connecting to the Internet, and this is resulting in them being increasingly targeted by cyber criminals. This is especially the case with the new generation of feature-packed smartphones.

“The vast majority of mobile phones are still relatively safe, especially the standard feature phones. However, as mobile phones become more sophisticated, the threats to mobile security are increasing,” emphasizes Dadwal.

“Malicious viruses, worms and Trojans, collectively known as malware, can infect your phones in many ways including corrupt multimedia messages, harmful applications or web downloads. Malware can then instruct your phone to send out expensive SMS messages, make calls to premium rate numbers or delete important information. There is also a growing concern over privacy issues involving smartphones. Spy-tools can now be installed physically on the victim’s phone to monitor and record all the actions on a mobile phone, including voice calls, SMS, multimedia and e-mail messages. Even your exact location can be tracked through GPS coordinates,” he elaborates.

His advice to mobile users here? Install security software and be more mindful of where your mobiles are at all times. He also cautions against downloading applications from unknown sources.

What about marketers then? Dadwal advices, “Marketers need to take the necessary precautions to safeguard the information they collect about their target audience. They also need to be encouraged to move away from the traditional ‘push’ or interruption based form of advertising, and adopt the six central tenets of a positive consumer experience: choice, control, customisation, consideration, constraint and confidentiality.” (See article entitled: Building Consumer Trust in Mobile Marketing, also in this issue).

So, can legislation help in any way, I asked Dadwal? “Although the industry has been working towards establishing guidelines and best practices to ensure a more positive consumer experience, it is important to involve the government and seek its support to create an environment that is conducive to both the marketer’s objectives and the consumer’s interest,” he responds.

In order to tackle the issue for building trust in consumers, the MMA has put in place a Global Code of Conduct and Consumer Best Practices which aim to ensure that the mobile marketing experience that consumers receive is a positive one. In addition, the mobile body also strives to provide consumers with recourse to convey concerns and criticisms of brands which do not adhere to these guidelines.

According to Dadwal, the MMA takes these valuable insights and works with regulators across the globe, providing them with case studies and examples of various successful markets. The organization also makes recommendations to the government to set up official guidelines based on previous experiences and current trends. “Legislations issued on the basis of consumer feedback and industry recommendations will help regulate the medium better and promote an environment of trust,” adds Dadwal.

Although mobile security issues have been covered pretty extensively in both local as well as foreign media, Dadwal observes that mobile security has not yet become a priority among consumers in the Asian region. This is despite the fact that mobile penetration has been rapid and extensive in Asia. He notes that recent surveys have shown that a majority of mobile phone users do not have security software installed on their mobiles. Although consumers are aware of the risks of malware infections through Bluetooth and other mobile security risks, they are not proactively taking precautions to protect themselves from such threats. Consumers tend to trust their mobile security to the carriers or manufacturers.

Elaborating on this, Dadwal says, “Users need to recognize the increasing mobile security risks and become more cautious about preserving their devices and data. Installing appropriate security settings and keeping your phone locked and protected are some basic steps that can be taken. Additionally, handle your SIM card with care and make a backup record of all the information it contains. Consumers should also apply the same rules they may apply to their PCs. Be on the lookout for phishing attempts and any dubious links/websites. As we face more sophisticated mobile threats, it is recommended to install security software especially when using smartphones for online banking or other business or personal transactions.”

These wise words echo what the Mobile Data Association said earlier this year about users needing to look after the data they store on their mobile phones. Mike Hawkes, director of mobile security at the trade association, explains that many people are unaware of the information that they store on their handsets and other mobile devices.

He adds that technology professionals are working on encryption to improve security on mobiles but consumers must also take steps to protect themselves.

"There's a lot of information people put into a mobile device from a consumer level that actually could be very useful to someone who wants to steal their identity," Hawkes notes. "Keep your mobile phones and data password protected. There are codes that can restrict access, calendars that require a pin or password to look at,” he advices.

This brings us to the topic of mobile spam – just how big a problem is it? As the popularity of mobile phones touches new heights, frequent users of text messaging have begun to see an increase in the number of unsolicited commercial advertisements being sent to their telephones through SMSes, says Dadwal. Unlike email, he adds, it is usually difficult to delete an SMS without reading it, making it an intrusive form of outreach. Some wireless service providers, notably in the USA, even charge a fee for every message received, including spam, he observes.

“SMS spam is one of the biggest challenges faced by the mobile marketing industry today. It is therefore essential for the industry to control the situation and help their consumers differentiate the legit, relevant messages from the unwanted kind. Mobile spam destroys the consumer’s trust in mobile marketing and makes it hard for them to not try and ban all kinds of marketing messages being sent to their phones. It also causes them to immediately delete any marketing messages they might receive instead of taking the time to read through the relevant ones and act on them,” explains Dadwal further.

With increasing mobile penetration, this problem unfortunately, is expected to persist unless industry players adhere to guidelines and best practices. Once again, Dadwal emphasizes the need to shift from the ‘push’ or interruption based advertising to relevant advertising that allows the consumers to choose and control their engagement with brands.

So just how will mobile privacy, security and mobile data protection evolve over the next few years in Asia? Dadwal believes that as the number of tech-savvy mobile phone users increases, there will be greater awareness of mobile security threats and consumers will recognize their right to a safe mobile experience. He also says that the industry and regulators will work together to make sure that the consumers are aware of all the systems and policing mechanisms in place and provide them with recourse for any behaviour that they find bothersome. “As security threats become more sophisticated, it will become essential to adapt legislations and industry guidelines to help industry players and consumers better fight these risks,” he states.

The Asia-Pacific region leads the world in mobile marketing and advertising, and accelerating growth will see nearly $7.7 billion (and more than $16 billion globally) spent here by 2011. Japan and South Korea are the world's most sophisticated mobile markets; China is the largest; India is the fastest-growing. As these markets further develop, there is no doubt at all that mobile privacy and data protection will become a priority for both the industry and the consumers in the region.

By Shanti Anne Morais