As technology experts and enthusiasts, you know something serious is going down in European Union (EU) when four of its telecom giants join hands to develop the advertising venture of a lifetime. Germany’s Deutsche Telekom, France’s Orange, Spain’s Telefónica, and the UK’s Vodafone dominate the telecom industry in their respective countries. Deutsche Telekom, for example, overtook Vodafone Germany in the German telecom wars.
The European Joint Venture: What It’s All About
Telecom operators have access to seemingly endless data streams thanks to all the telecommunications services they offer. So, you could understand their desire to utilize said streams, be it for their benefit or the users’. Let me familiarize you with some things to understand the venture and the subsequent reaction.
You may be vaguely familiar with the concept through websites having small pop-ups asking you to consent to the cookies. These cookies are small blocks of data that a website creates during user visits and places on the device used. These data bricks are helpful and, at times, essential for the function of the web:
- Storage of stateful information on the device (e.g., items added to your online shopping cart)
- Tracking the user’s browsing activity (e.g., clicking particular buttons, logging in, etc.)
- Saving information the user previously entered into form fields for subsequent use (e.g., names, addresses, passwords, etc.)
One nifty type of cookie is tracking cookies, allowing the tracker to put together your visits to different sites.
This one is a controversy registered in the history books. Cookies, as are, are not that much of a big deal, especially since the website disclaims it: the user ultimately consents to their use to the extent they prefer. Supercookies are eerily similar to tracking cookies with one key difference: your web browser was never designed to store them. The thing about supercookies is that they use other unrelated browser features to stash themselves secretly. In fact, security researchers have found these mutant cookies hidden in the browser cache (the temporary storage for things like your browsing history, images, and code). So, you can imagine the uproar when it was discovered that in 2016, Version, one of the biggest American telecom companies, was using these cookies to track websites visited by mobile phones on their network unbeknownst to their subscribers. It wasn’t until after the initial backlash that the American telco fixed the situation. So, you can understand people’s standoffish behavior in this new development.
European Telecoms’ Advertising Venture
The big European telcos want to create a secure, pseudonymized token (here on out referred to as ID) based on a hashed/encrypted pseudonymous internal identity linked to the user’s network subscription. Confused? So was I. let me break it down: every user subscribed to their networks would be assigned an ID. However, this ID has been stripped of some personally identifiable information (PII). The system then replaces them with artificial identifiers (pseudonyms). Now, the algorithm can recognize this specific user through their ID across different websites and apps without putting your personal information at risk allowing frequency capping, retargeting, site/app optimization, etc. As a result, they can make these IDs available to publishers and brands without revealing anything about your IRL self. They do, however, promise that the users could access a user-facing portal to review which brands and publishers have access to their advertising ID, granting and withdrawing consent where necessary. It sounds like a win-win situation for everybody; what is the problem?
Foolproof Plan? Not Really
The fact that Europe’s most high-profile telecom companies have decided to team up and create something that could potentially be a nationwide security risk has everyone on edge. Remember that they cover most major European telecom markets between them. Look at Verizon, for example. Had it not been for the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) intervention, the company would have disclosed the supercookies to their users and requested their permission.
For any company to introduce such a monumental technology to the market, they need the approval of the European Commission. Additionally, getting that approval alone is a feat, as the EU is strict regarding data protection and privacy laws. In addition, the Commission found existing microtargeting ad tech violating the General Data Protection Regulation, thus setting a precedent for subsequent filings.
In a previous article, we showcased how the telcos, if they strategize appropriately, can beat Big Tech to the punch to run the metaverse. The telecom companies have access to an ocean of data deeper than the Marina Trench. Hypothetically speaking, they can track your every move over their networks. Allowing this venture would set the tone for cognitive cities and the metaverse regarding who is running the show. As a result, telecom giants can be the rulers of the virtual world. And this filing is evidence of a strategic plan to dominate and push out the competition (i.e., google and meta). Watch out, big tech! Big telcos are coming for you!
Inside Telecom provides you with an extensive list of content covering all aspects of the tech industry. Keep an eye on our Operators section to stay informed and up-to-date with our daily articles.