Nov 29, 2016

Mass-market data monetization

The motivation for this article comes from several recent and groundbreaking announcements relating to the commercialization of consumer data. In one of these, Proximus [1] launched myAnalytics, a service that sells aggregated customer data as a ‘market research’ service for businesses such as tourism agencies, event organizers, marketers and those in charge of mobility management.

Telefonica, one of the larger communications service providers, announced plans to create a personal data bank for each of its 350m customers [2]. This will allow customers the means of storing, managing and selling their own data. When questioned about Telefonica’s plans, Vodafone’s CEO expressed puzzlement as to whether this is any different from everyday protection of customer data [3]. This reaction should set a few alarm bells ringing.

Proximus and Telefonica are creating tools and new value propositions that reposition the conventional view on customer data. Proximus’ approach focuses on specific locations, offering analytical tools and market intelligence for businesses in particular venues. Its headline announcement of market research reports, with a starting price of EUR700, suggests that it has developed a lean and low cost business model. It is very likely that the underlying customer data sets it analyses serve multiple purposes. This potentially equates to multiple target customers which improves the economics of the overall proposition.

Telefonica’s plans sound more ambitious in scale. It wants its customers to know how the internet applications and services they use generate personal data (e.g. location, identity information for email and social media accounts) on Telefonica’s networks. Customers will be able to cash-in personal data by selling it to third parties and to port their data to private data stores or other networks should they decide to switch providers. This looks like a very enlightened approach which opens up the personal data market by clarifying ownership, providing transparency and enabling data owners to monetize their assets. Significantly, Telefonica is putting a new set of tools in the hands of its mass-market customers.

Telefonica’s approach contrasts with the reception given to an announcement between Alphabet/Google and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust[4], [5]. These two parties announced a five-year collaboration to apply AI technologies to improve patient care across the trust’s various hospitals. The idea is to begin by using patient and hospital data to tackle kidney disease. What is less clear is how extensive a data set Google will obtain, what are the other possible uses of this data and whether Alphabet/Google alone stands to benefit financially from the deal (via derivative applications through a multi-sided business model, for example).

The emergence of analytics and data monetization capabilities is increasing the value of data. As this dynamic develops, many owners of data will find themselves at a comparative disadvantage in the data monetization value chain. This is an important issue for public sector agencies (e.g. hospitals, transport authorities, smart-city managers etc.) who need to ensure that they and their citizens benefit when their data is used initially to deliver efficiency gains and, over the longer term, to enable new and innovative services.

All of this is to say that customer (or patient) data and the various ways to generate commercial value are very much a part of today’s telco landscape. In responding to Telefonica’s move, Vodafone’s CEO was correct about the imperative to protect customer data. However, he should worry if his business developers, product managers and strategy team have not flagged up the new and real possibilities from data monetization [6] through direct or indirect means such as the tools that Alphabet/Google, Proximus and Telefonica are deploying.

[1] Proximus -

[2] Telefonica -

[3] Vodafone -

[4] Google DeepMind NHS -

[5] Google NHS -

[6] Developing IoT privacy as a value proposition -


  1. 5 Dec 2016 update

    DeepMind’s data deals raise some serious questions

    These deals matter as a litmus test of our institutions and our instincts, and whether we can advance technologically without evading due process and hard-earned rights. The primary limits to promising advances in machine learning are access to data and computing power. The Royal Free deals do a civic disservice if they undervalue publicly funded data sets, while failing to consider the long-term consequences of giving advance access to powerful private prospectors. DeepMind may be a worthy partner but it must prove itself as such so that the future of healthcare is genuinely competitive, open, fair and in the public interest.

  2. 21 February 2019 update

    Medical records companies are selling (anonymized) patient data in Canada.

  3. 11 Sep 2019 update

    DMVs Are Making Millions of Dollars Selling Drivers' Personal Data to Third Parties