Telstra, Optus and Suncorp eye geospatial data

Caution needed to avert breaches of privacy, says Telstra official.

Big Australian telcos and insurance companies see business opportunities in analysing the location information transmitted by customers’ mobile devices, said speakers at yesterday's Big Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence Summit.

The move into geospatial comes as companies face increasing scrutiny about their handling of customers’ private information.

With geospatial data, Suncorp’s insurance business sees an opportunity to reduce costs by providing disaster warnings to customers, said Suncorp business intelligence solution architect, Cameron Price.

“Ultimately that’s good for us as an insurance company,” Price said. If a large storm is on the way, “we’d really like you to get your motor vehicle under cover so it doesn’t get smashed up and we don’t have to pay for it.”

Optus is "actively” using geospatial data and is looking at how to use location data to provide recommendations to customers in real time, said Optus business intelligence director, Matt McKenzie. “That’s where we’re sort of seeing a lot of opportunity at the moment.”

Telstra uses location data to warn and provide updates to customers during a disaster, said Telstra chief architect of information and corporate systems, Mark Kortink. Like Optus, Telstra also wants to use location data to provide relevant marketing to customers, he said.

Geospatial is a “very hot space,” said Paul Ormonde-James, former head of global intelligence for the World Bank. When shopping centres provide free Wi-Fi, "they know your MAC ID and they can try to [find] where you are and target offers,” he said. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

“It is the hot space,” agreed Neil Fraser, director of information for Macquarie University. Geospatial data about a customer has become public domain information, he said.

Kortink acknowledged that using location for marketing, as with other areas of big data, can require navigating tricky privacy issues.

“Telstra’s basic position on privacy is just it’s a no-go area in terms of compromise and risk,” Kortink said. “We’ve had a couple of incidents in the past 12 months and spent truckloads of money trying to get out of those.”

Kortink didn’t name the incidents, however Telstra recently suffered a privacy backlash after revealing it was tracking websites visited by Next G customers and sending the information to a US-based company called Netsweeper.

Not long afterward, Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim found Telstra in breach of two principles under the Privacy Act for making customers personal information publicly available over several months.

The privacy issue is made more complex because people have different views of what constitutes private information, Kortink added. The Telstra official said he personally wouldn’t like it if a company pulled information about him off of Facebook to use for marketing. But other people would say it’s OK because they chose to disclose their information and want to receive offers, he said.

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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Tags retailprivacymobileTelstraTelcooptusSuncorpgeospatialinsurancewarningalertslocationdisaster

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