Privacy and Big Data


Increases in computing power and falling prices of information technology systems make it possible to process huge volumes of data, from a variety of sources and in a range of formats, at greater speed than ever before. As a result, it is now possible to analyse all of the data from one or more large datasets, rather than relying on smaller samples of data. Importantly, this allows meaningful insights to be drawn, where appropriate, from mere correlations in the data rather than having to identify causal connections. These capabilities are often referred to as Big Data analytics techniques.

At the same time, the Internet of Things (IoT) is equipping an ever-increasing number of devices with sensors that collect and communicate data.

Together, these capabilities represent a sea change in society’s ability not only to create new products and services, but also to solve some of the most pressing public policy needs of our time — from road management in congested and polluted urban areas to understanding and preventing the spread of diseases.

Mobile network operators (MNOs) will increasingly use the information they collect for Big Data initiatives. They have an important role to play as responsible stewards of that data and potentially as facilitators in a future marketplace for access to this type of data.

However, Big Data capabilities also give rise to questions about security and privacy and how these important concerns can be addressed.


How can MNOs and policymakers help society realise the benefits of Big Data analytics in a privacy protective manner and in compliance with applicable laws?
How can the GSMA further trust among stakeholders involved in the collection and analytics of data?


GSMA Report: Mobile Privacy and Big Data Analytics
GSMA Report: Mobile Privacy Principles — Promoting Consumer Privacy in the Mobile Ecosystem
GSMA Privacy Design Guidelines for Mobile Applications website
OECD Data-driven Innovation for Growth and Well-being website
FTC Report: Big Data — A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?

Industry Position

The mobile industry recognises the societal benefits that can result from Big Data and wants to unlock the huge potential of Big Data analytics in a way that respects well-established privacy principles and fosters an environment of trust.

New laws are not necessary to address Big Data analytics and the IoT. Rather, MNOs recognise that existing privacy principles apply in these areas. Rules that restrict the legitimate use of data or metadata should be qualified and proportional to the risk of privacy harm that consumers might suffer if their data is misused. These rules should also be applied consistently across different industry sectors and types of technology.

MNOs are well-placed to understand the potential risks to individuals and groups from Big Data analytics and can implement measures to avoid or mitigate those risks.

New insights derived from the data will often give rise to new uses — or ‘purposes of processing’ — that had not been considered or identified when the data was initially collected. Accordingly, privacy frameworks must recognise this potential and make such uses possible.

MNOs can address these types of challenges and increase trust between industry stakeholders and consumers by:

Building on previous privacy initiatives, such as the GSMA Mobile Privacy Principles and the Privacy Design Guidelines for Mobile Application Development.

Finding innovative ways to provide meaningful choice, control and transparency to individuals about what data is collected and how it is used. For example, this could be addressed through user-friendly dashboards or signals from IoT devices that are easily discoverable by smartphones.

Thinking carefully about the impact on individuals (and groups) of the insights derived from Big Data and the actions or decisions that may be taken based on those insights.

Reducing the risk of re-identification of individuals after data has been processed where this may raise privacy concerns.

Establishing clarity on responsibilities between parties when collaborating on Big Data analytics projects.

Incorporating ethical decision-making into governance models.

Equally, governments can ensure their country and citizens gain the most benefit from the potential of Big Data by:

  • Understanding how Big Data analytics works and the context in which it takes place.
  •  Accommodating innovative approaches to transparency and consent.
  • Developing and adopting practical industry guidelines and self-regulatory measures that seek to harness, rather than hinder, Big Data analytics.