Wrap-Up From MWC15: On Privacy and Further Affirmation, the Mobile Number Is the Key to Identity

The exhibition halls of Mobile World Congress 2015  were dominated by massive stands showing endless arrays of seemingly identical smartphone handsets. Despite media hype, hardware innovation was lacking. It felt gimmicky this year as niches were developed within niches as manufacturers try to differentiate. It feels like that market is primed for a new game changer like the original iPhone was, but when will it come? Not in 2015.

Alongside the eight massive exhibition halls, a varied conference program was in operation. There were several interesting (and a few not so interesting) conference sessions – but here is what stood out.

Mobile identity was a key theme at the show and is quickly taking center stage in all areas of technology. The amount of information we now share over the Internet with vendors, social networking sites, banks and other entities is at unprecedented levels, and managing privacy is becoming big news as abuses become more evident. Companies must be clear about what data they are capturing and why, and allow users to deactivate or improve that data. They must do so in a much easier way than having to read a 7,000 word terms and conditions document. Failure to do so will result in a rise of independent solutions that people will use to stop their data from leaking, which will defeat the business models of those companies (e.g. using personal data to profile and advertise to users) who are not handling privacy in the right way.

Mozilla's Denelle Dixon-Thayer said that users are becoming more fearful about who has access to their data and what they are doing with it. She suggested that a way forward was to be clear about the "value exchange" that is happening when they share their data so that they can make an informed decision on sharing it. "Trust is the currency of the web," she says.

On that topic, Dr. Claus Ulmer of Deutsche Telekom shared some stats from a survey they did which asked people which companies were most trustworthy. Deutsche Telekom came in at the top with 46 percent; next was Microsoft, Apple, Vodafone at 24 percent; then Google at 15 percent; and Facebook bringing up the rear at 8 percent. This shows the excellent potential for mobile operators to position themselves at the center of trust for peoples' online lives.

In the category of scary news and statistics, Mikko Hypponen from security company F-Secure shared some interesting numbers on the rapidly growing problem of mobile malware – often hidden in legitimate looking apps but harvesting data from phones to enable account takeover, password hacking and so on.  They are now getting 9,000 Android mobile malware samples a day. By comparison, they see virtually none on the Windows Phone and iOS platforms due to the more stringent vetting of apps that go into those app stores. This problem needs to be sorted out quickly, otherwise trust in Android will erode.

mobile world congress 2015 exhibit hall

A great example of this problem was during the recent protests in Hong Kong. Hypponen said that the Chinese government sent spoofed WhatsApp messages to protesters encouraging them to download a protest networking app. This app did actually allow protestors to link up with each other, but in the background it collected their location and lists of all their contacts and sent them to Beijing. This is malware with serious life-effecting consequences.

Finally, one of the most significant announcements to come out of the show was the GSMA news that Mobile Connect is now being used by 17 operators in 13 countries to help customers secure and manage a universal identity. The idea is that, with Mobile Connect, users will be able to securely authenticate their identity using their mobile phones to safely access digital services—including banking, health records, digital entertainment and email, among others.

The purpose of Mobile Connect, which was originally announced last year at MWC, is to make consumers' lives a little simpler by offering a single mobile solution for verifying identity while also respecting online privacy—it lets consumers log in to websites and applications quickly without the need to remember passwords and usernames.

At TeleSign, we have been following this announcement from MWC, and are excited to see this news from GMSA because it reinforces our stance on needing more than a username and complicated password to protect online accounts. In fact, many of the most recent high-profile breaches were due to the failure of the password. They might have been prevented if these organizations hadn't relied on passwords alone to protect their consumers' data.

At TeleSign, we've built our business on the idea that users need more than a password to stay safe online, and that two or even three or four lines of defense are better than one. When it comes to verifying a user's identity, mobile phones are fast becoming the primary mechanism. The GSMA's Mobile Connect initiative reinforces this position. TeleSign's approach of using a combination of your unique mobile phone number, the properties of your mobile device, and data you allow your mobile operator to use to keep you safe online, your mobile phone becomes the key to securing your online life. By using a truly unique identifier on a device that is always with you – your mobile number and your mobile phone – your accounts are not only secure, but also easier to manage."

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