Internet Bubble 2.5: Mobile Phone Commerce

By Martin Bosworth

Following on Gavin’s excellent post about the early adoption of mobile commerce and content pursuit across the globe, this issue actually came up in the course of the second day of the FTC conference on identity authentication and identity theft.

One of the panels discussed global approaches to privacy and security concerns for identity authentication, a welcome respite from the tediously U.S.-focused themes of the conference. Hanne Sijursen, payments exec for Norwegian mobile telco Telenor, discussed the24/7 culture of Norway that demanded convenience and ease of use via mobile banking at all times, to the point where she had to repeatedly remind government officials that Telenor was not, in fact, a bank itself.

Sijursen commented that everyone in Norway has a mobile–to them, it’s an accepted fact of life, and they apparently gleefully toss aside privacy concerns to ensure they can get what they want, when they want it.

Yukiko Ko, electronic commerce policy advisor for Alston & Bird, said that Japan had similar attitudes about privacy, preferring mobility, convenience, and functionality to security and privacy. She commented that Japan tends to place greater trust in its government to protect it, which led to a lot of laughter from the government attendees. 🙂

Another interesting comment of Ko’s was the fact that Japan has no “embedded credit card culture” as the West does, preferring to load up prepaid mobile phones and gift cards for instant commerce rather than pay later via credit. According to Ko, the majority of Japan’s identity theft came from lost or stolen mobiles, as they contain copious amounts of data–but many companies simply store their data on the servers and only enable subscribers to access it on a per-need basis.

In light of our country’s increasing problems with identity theft and the rampant abuse of surveillance powers by our government, this was a fascinating look at how other cultures view values we hold dear, and how their business and culture develops in that respect.

5 replies »

  1. The US is privacy obsessed. For instance, in South Africa you are automatically fingerprinted at birth, and then pretty much every time you need to interact with government. I was fingerprinted most recently last year when I renewed my driver’s licence. All South Africans must carry ID with them at all times. You cannot get anything without it.

    In the UK the government battles to get people to accept the idea of an ID, let alone any actual invasion of privacy, like fingerprinting. The Japanese hate credit cards. The Germans hate cash. The French hate business. The US hate government.

    The difficulty with the privacy and identity debate is the radically different ways that different cultures have of understanding the problem, as well as how far they will allow their governments or private industry to go in deploying technology designed to protect their identities.

  2. Whythawk, you’re right that the U.S. is privacy obsessed. It probably starts with our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, but I wonder if the wild west frontier mentality developed as the U.S. pushed west to California also has something to do with it.

    But one of the things people in the U.S. don’t necessarily realize (although Martin almost certainly has a better understand of this than even I do) is just how much of their personal information is actually available. You can Google phone numbers to get addresses. Every time you buy something with a credit card you give up a bit of your privacy. You’re monitored by cameras every time you got into a major store (Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc) or a bank.

    Keeping control of your privacy in this technological age is nearly impossible and would require that you pretty much outright reject most of the very conveniences that modern technology gives us.

    IMO, the bigger issue than information collection is keeping private companies and the government from collecting all that information into a single database that gives a massive picture of you. I don’t want my health insurance company to be able to link in with my grocery loyalty card, my car insurance, my credit card reports, my tax returns, and my Google searches. Put it all together and you can get a remarkably accurate picture of a person. And putting it all together should not be allowed.

  3. Brian’s absolutely correct. Collection of information, while worrisome, isn’t the huge threat. It’s aggregation of information–taking bits and pieces of data and creating the whole of a person’s public identity.

    You can mix and match elements of different identities to create a “synthetic identity,” for example. This can then be used to open credit accounts, get medical procedures, etc., and the victim(s) never know about it until a bill collector tracks them down via name or SSN.

    I used to be very hardcore libertarian “GET DA GUMMINT OUT MY LIFE” when it came to privacy, but I am realizing that the best weapon is not to shut the door, but to turn the tables–gather information on those who threaten your privacy and threaten theirs in turn. That’s where data breach disclosure laws come in handy. 🙂