Will the information and delivery services industry like data minimization?

Posted January 27th, 2015 in knowledge economy, knowledge market, privacy and tagged , by Alton Drew

Today the Federal Trade Commission released a report on the Internet of Things and the best practices companies could put in place to protect consumer privacy.  The scope of the report was limited to IoT devices that consumers use to access other devices via the internet.  In addition, one of the best practices for securing consumer privacy mentioned in the report was the concept of data minimization.

How would data minimization impact firms within the information and delivery services industry who rely on large amounts of data in order to analyze consumption behavior?  The FTC defines data minimization as limiting the collection of consumer data, and retaining that information only for a set period of time and not indefinitely.  By minimizing collected data, tyhe FTC believes that larger data storers may make themselves less attractive to thieves and that the risk that data will be used in a way departing from consumer expectations will be reduced.

What the report overlooks are firms that consumers may not have face-to-face exposure to.  Take for example Broadridge Financial Solutions.  Broadridge processes and transfers sensitive personal information provided to them by their clients.  These clients include financial institutions, public companies, and mutual funds.  Under certain circumstances Broadridge’s own vendors may have access to the personal information Broadridge receives.  According to the company, they maintain systems and procedures to protect consumer data including encryption, authentication technology, data loss technology, and the transmission of data over private networks.

Even with their own protections in place, would information and delivery services firms like Broadridge see a decrease in volume if their clients are forced via additonal best practices to collect a limited field of data?  I’ve read nothing in the financials of a number of companies that tell me that they are concerned about additional regulations from the FTC indirectly impacting them.  Bear in mind that the clients for these information firms are other business firms, but since the information they analyze is collected by firms with direct exposure to consumers, information and delivery services firms and their investors should be aware of these developments in the regulation of the internet of things.

Paid prioritization would get the GOP bill closer to ideal

Today the hashtags, #openinternet and #netneutrality were used extensively as the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the House Sub-committee on Communications and Technology listened to testimony that they hope will help refine draft legislation designed to rein in the Federal Communications Commission while bringing clarity on paid prioritization, unreasonable network management, discrimination against network traffic, and access to legal websites.

The bill expressly prohibits paid prioritization, which allows content providers to enter agreements with broadband providers that allow traffic higher priority for certain traffic to end-users.  The argument against paid prioritization has been that smaller content providers would not be able to compete with the big dogs who have deeper pockets and can afford to pay to get their traffic placed before the rest of the dog pile.  But what this view fails to consider is that firms willing to pay for priority treatment of their traffic recognize the value to their subscribers that their traffic has and paying to get that traffic to content subscribers is a cost that will generate benefits.

Content providers are not shy about the how failure to get traffic to subscribers in a timely fashion might impact their business models.  Take for eample the investment information firm, Morningstar.

Morningstar is in the information and services delivery industry.  The Chicago-based firm provides independent investment research to subscribers around the globe.  It relies on internet technology to deliver its services, thus an ability to upgrade to the newest technology is necessary if content providers like Morningstar are to remain competitive.  Outages of their network data centers can result in lost customers and lost revenues.  According to Morningstar:

“Many of our client contracts contain service-level agreements that require us to meet certain obligations for delivering time-sensitive, up-to-date data and information. We may not be able to meet these obligations in the event of failure or downtime in our information systems. Our operations and those of our suppliers and customers are vulnerable to interruption by fire, earthquake, power loss, telecommunications failure, terrorist attacks, wars, Internet failures or disruptions, computer viruses, and other events beyond our control. Our database and network facilities may also be vulnerable to external attacks that misappropriate our data, corrupt our databases, or limit access to our information systems.

Most of our products and services depend heavily on our electronic delivery systems and the Internet. Our ability to deliver information using the Internet may be impaired because of infrastructure failures, service outages at third-party Internet providers, malicious attacks, or other factors. If disruptions, failures, or slowdowns of our electronic delivery systems or the Internet occur, our ability to distribute our products and services effectively and to serve our customers may be impaired.”

Question is, would a statutory ban on paid prioritization benefit Morningstar or other firms in the information delivery services industry where, again, timeliness ois of the essence?  If contracts with their clients call for liabilities where data is not delivered in a timely manner or where quality is eroded, can Morningstar afford prohibition from entering priority contracts?

While the bill is a good start toward bringing clarity and closure to the net neutrality debate, Congress needs to focus on the commercial aspects of the internet and keep in mind that speed and capacity are the characteristics that make the exchange of information over the internet far more superior, productive, and profitable than any other medium.  Paid prioritization is about meeting customer needs and recognizing the value certain content brings not only to the subscribing end users but to the economy as a whole.

 

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In the wake of City of Roswell, can you trust locality’s power over broadband market?

The United States Supreme Court today issued a ruling in a tower siting case.  On the surface it was no big deal.  The City of Roswell Georgia thought that a cell tower proposed by T-Mobile would be an eyesore for the community so the city denied T-Mobile application.  T-Mobile cried foul, claiming that the city violated the Communications Act by failing to explain its reasoning.  The Court held that although Roswell was in its right to not include in its denial letter its reason for denying the application, the city’s reasons should have been provided to T-Mobile right around the time the wireless carrier received its denial letter.

What I found downright scary was the City’s argument for not providing a written explanation along with the denial.  The City believed that an obligation to provide a reason took away from its local zoning authority.  In addition at least one city council member believed that Roswell had enough cellular coverage that it was not necessary for the city to leverage the playing field for T-Mobile.

The court said, whoa; hold up a minute.  The reason you explain your denial is to prevent that very attitude toward new entrants.  Localities are required to state their reasons for denying applications in order to prevent unreasonable discrimination among providers of functionally equivalent services.

Now consider Roswell’s attitude in light of President Obama’s announcement that he would like to see the Federal Communications Commission pre-empt any state legislation that restricts municipalities from providing their own broadband facilities.  Localities are the gatekeepers to companies entering local markets to sell broadband services.  If localities took this attitude toward wireline and wireless broadband providers seeking franchise agreements to provide services, there would be a disincentive on the part of the private sector to invest in, build out, and deploy broadband facilities.

It’s tough enough having to negotiate franchise agreements with localities.  Competing against them for the provision of broadband only makes market entry all the more difficult.

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What regulators say about the internet of things

For the past two or three days the chairmen of the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission have been clarifying their regulatory agendas for and approaches to the Internet.  FCC chairman Tom Wheeler plans to issue net neutrality rules around 5 February with the full FCC voting on those rules on 26 February.  Media reports have Mr. Wheeler outlining what he believes the benefits consumers would enjoy from reclassifying broadband as an old school, run-of-the-mill telephone company.  For example at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Mr. Wheeler reportedly said the following:

“So, there is a way to do Title II right, that says there are many parts of Title II that are inappropriate, and would thwart investment, but that a model has been set in the wireless business.”

CTIA-The Wireless Association has taken the position that given the level of competition for mobile broadband that net neutrality rules should be “mobile broadband specific” and that mobile broadband has never been regulated under Title II.

Mr. Wheeler, in an attempt to keep net neutrality advocates happy, appears to be willing to use Title II regulation to strike down deals between content providers and broadband operators where content providers pay to have their traffic given higher priority over other providers.  Mr. Wheeler wants the role of determining which transactions and agreements are commercially reasonable and how that traffic should be moved from content provider to broadband provider to ultimate end user.

FTC chairman Edith Ramirez’s approach appears to focus more on transparency of participants in information markets.  Her concern, as shared with CES participants, is about privacy and the Internet of Things. As more devices connect to each other via the internet, more devices become subject to hacking and a wealth of data, thought by consumers to be private, becomes subject to misuse, theft, or fraud.

Ms. Ramirez’s focus on the consumer is not surprising given the nature of her agency’s work, but it also seems the slightly, and I mean slightly, better approach to overseeing market behavior versus individual business behavior.  The internet is a platform for information exchange between information generators and information seekers.  The more information that a provider has on how her information is going to be used in the markets helps her make better decisions not only on whether she should make it available but also on its value and how best to monetize her data. Information gatherers will simply have to provide better incentives to information providers to get them to give up their data.

What kind of growth does the market see for the Internet of Things?  According to Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group, some 25 billion devices will be connected to the internet by the end of 2015.  That number will climb to 50 billion connected devices by the end of 2020.  That’s a lot of broadband infrastructure for the FCC to oversee and more hacking access points for the FTC to worry about in five short years.

Investors will see the biggest gains in the infrastructure space of the Internet of Things.  Leading growth in this space will be manufacturers of processor chips, wifi networks, sensors, and software.  Investors should also be concerned with factors that impact demand for devices that talk to each other and I believe the factor that has the heaviest weight is the consumer privacy factor.  Devices aren’t just talking to each other but are gathering information on consumer likes and habits and storing this data for the information gatherer’s future use.  Privacy is an immediate and long term issue because it concerns one half of the parties involved in the information market transaction: the consumer.

As for the FCC’s open access approach it is too short-sighted.  Mr. Wheeler’s focus on competition for broadband service and equal treatment of traffic may have a nice sounding populist ring, but in the internet eco-system what matters is the consumer’s choice of product obtained through broadband.  That product is content and the price the consumer pays in exchange for that content is, ironically, content in the form of personal data.  Consumers already have wireless and wireline choices for broadband access.  The value play for consumers lies in the quality of content available online and consumers are more than capable of deciding that for themselves.

What the government can do is what it does best (albeit it is not the best at it, but work with me); government should adjudicate privacy and other consumer disputes and make available to consumers information that they may not be able to gleen readily from the private sector.  The FTC’s focus on privacy and consumer protection does a better job at this than the FCC.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that the private sector is taking care of the FCC’s mandate of ensuring a nationwide communications network.  The FCC’s focus given the growth in the mobile market and the increasing need for devices to wirelessly connect should remain on allocating spectrum and assuring the reliability and safety of wired and wireless communications infrastructure.  Any other endeavor is waste.

 

 

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The FCC does not owe Marriott an unencumbered revenue stream

According to a petition filed with the Federal Communications Commission by Marriott International and other hotels, Marriott would like to the FCC to declare that a hotel’s management of its wifi networks does not violate section 333 of the Communications Act if management of its wifi operations interfere with wifi hot spots authorized under the FCC’s rule 15.  Sounds more like the hotels would like to protect one of their revenue streams.

From a business standpoint I’m not surprised, but if the FCC allows Marriott’s petition, in my opinion they run the risk of contradicting themselves on the policy of an open Internet, specifically the policy of allowing consumers to attach any lawful devices to the #internet for use by the consumer.

In addition, Marriott would like the public and the FCC to believe that this is not a #netneutrality issue. Granted I’m no fan of net neutrality but if you want to promote consumer access to websites of their choice, shouldn’t the FCC ensure that the consumer can access those sites using the lawful devices of their choice?

Given the proliferation of hot spots, it makes better business sense for hotels to discontinue their wifi services. Over 80% of consumers have cell phones and hot spots are less expensive than phones. Simply put in your brochures that you do not offer wifi and that you better buy a hot spot from AT&T or Verizon or a hot spot enabling smart phone before making that business trip.

The FCC does not owe Marriott or any other hotel an unencumbered revenue stream.