Things are heating up in Washington. No, it’s not reconciling a one trillion plus budget before the government shuts down. It’s consumer mobile privacy and Pandora Media, the Internet radio company that’s going public with an IPO.
According to the LA Times, a federal grand jury would like to talk with Pandora about personal data sharing, using mobile applications, on Android and Apple smartphones.
This follows months of investigations by the Wall Street Journal analyzing online marketing tracking of consumer behavior. (For background, see MobileBeyond articles on mobile, Facebook and wireless monitoring worldwide.)
Pandora and the Music Genome Project
Now with over 80 million listeners, Pandora is the largest Internet music streaming service, available on most smartphones, tablet and personal computers. In my audio interview with Tom Conrad, the company’s CTO, we discussed the Music Genome project, an extensive study of listener music preferences. For years, the company offered its service free without advertising as it responded to listeners’ music preferences. For the full length interview with Tom, see Exclusive Pandora Internet Radio Tom Conrad Interview.
In a sense, the Music Genome Project’s data collection is similar to the current fracas over online and smartphone app mobile privacy with one difference. Pandora listeners know they’re sending private information to Pandora. In return, users listen as long as they want. Before marketers and advertisers sought better consumer data, Pandora already used customer feedback to improve the service, not spy on people. But things have changed. People, without their knowledge, are sharing millions of data bits with unknown marketers and advertisers.
Marketing Tracking Technology Advances
How times change. They’re now hundreds of marketing tracking companies who use technology to monitor online consumer behavior from website-to-website. As consumers shift to mobile devices, especially smartphones and tablets, mobile marketers and advertisers seek even more user data to target phone users.
GPS, mapping and navigation applications monitor consumer locations. Social networking sites, most prominently Facebook, store enormous databases of member personal information and preferences, collected from profiles and online behaviors.
In a superb article called “Twitter, Mobile Browsers and Metadata Privacy,” the author discusses in detail how a single tweet transfers highly personal data through a growing information ecosystem benefiting thousands of advertisers and marketers.
It’s Not Just Smartphone App Mobile Privacy
Congress, grand juries and other regulators may hold meetings with content providers like Pandora. However, they’re trying to catch a locomotive that’s racing down the track at 100 miles per hour. As government leaders in Libya and elsewhere have discovered, its sheer insanity trying to restrain people’s who want to share information with friends.
Google’s’ Sergey Brin and Larry Page at a TED conference in 2004 showed how global Internet traffic is growing faster than any communications channel in history.
The video (see below) shows the number of Google search queries in real-time worldwide. From China to Europe, from India to the U.S., streams of colored lights, representing different languages, rise from a rotating Earth into the stratosphere.
The Web has become a live being in itself, driven by people seeking information and communicating with others. It’s unstoppable.
Mobile Privacy Needs Transparency
Politicians, regulators, marketers and content providers may hold hearings until the end of the century. But they miss the point. The issue is not tracking cookies inside smartphone apps. It’s finding a balance between the rights of people to control release of personal information to use online services without paying a lot for it.
Pandora Media provides a musical content service delivered over the Internet and mobile Web. To offer that service, marketers and advertisers want demographic and behavioral data to justify the cost of reaching targeted audiences. Marketing tracking firms compile that information.
While mobile and Internet technology continues exploding, keeping personal information private requires a continual dialog among consumers, content providers, marketers and regulators in an Internet age.