The UK’s information commissioner confirmed reports yesterday of the loss of millions of customer records containing sensitive data.

This incident, one of an increasing list of digital faux pas, will no doubt be quickly overshadowed by other more pressing and global concerns and a ‘this is an industry problem’ statement which it clearly is. It does, however raise serious, if little voiced issues of trust and responsibility among telco.

Every day millions of consumers share sensitive – even intimate – details with one another via their ‘phones and other wireless devices. As I write this, Clive Woodward is connected on his laptop in the same train carriage (that note might make for interesting reading) and, whilst the interception and use of information is illegal in this country it clearly happens and the laws don’t provide for custodial sentences to help deter it.

So who’s responsible?

Customers are willingly provide ‘status’ updates through applications installed on their ‘phones either at the point of purchase or thereafter. In order to secure a contract they have to divulge potentially sensitive personal and billing information that they trust will be treated with respect and secured.

Trust in mobile operators is, in part, based on the belief that the calls, texts, pictures and other media like Facebook and Twitter updates are despatched and arrive safely. They and their hardware partners build walled gardens (Apple is notorious for this) to protect ‘the integrity of the network’ seeking to ensure that only the most appropriate applications and information are consumed. There is some merit in this – imagine for example, having to download weekly virus updates to your mobile.

How can we overcome this?
Perhaps introducing another contract variable – network security – providing, for example, a sliding scale of customer fees based on the level of security they deem necessary, effectively penalising organisations for any breaches, might underline the seriousness of this issue (not limited to mobile operators but extending far beyond) and effect the necessary changes in behaviour.

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