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People trust mobile operators over Facebook and Google to handle personal data

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Once in a while, it is a useful exercise to directly approach mobile subscribers and ask them exactly how they think and feel about a particular subject.  This time, the questions related to mobile experience and trust.  The results were dramatic and revealed a huge amount about the opportunity for mobile operators to introduce mobile identity services. These are the intriguing and sometimes surprising results from 2,000 mobile subscribers in the US and UK. 

Password problems 

Hunting down and remembering passwords is the biggest frustration in their mobile experience. For years, dropped calls have frustrated subscribers – and operators have done their best to minimize those instances.  As the mobile device became the main medium for video, many operators have done their best to minimize instances of video buffering.  But now, when subscribers were asked about the biggest frustration of their mobile experience, guess what?  Neither of those top their list. With the mobile device being the focal point of connected living and the main access point to online services, hunting down and remembering usernames and passwords is now the biggest frustration.   

This is something that everyone can relate to, so maybe this result isn’t very surprising.  We have all wasted time hunting for usernames and passwords, trying different combinations of our regular passwords, re-setting passwords and then getting annoyed when the password reset email doesn’t even reach our inbox!  It is incredibly annoying, when all you want to do is to get into your service or app, or make a simple purchase.  And more to the point, it IS even more frustrating than dropped calls, buffering videos and typing in your credit/debit card details over and over again for online retailers. 

Bottom line: It is easy for mobile operators to dismiss this as not their problem.  But their subscribers are really annoyed and telecom operators have the means to relieve it, while helping themselves in the process by solidifying their role in the OTT ecosystem and increasing subscriber loyalty. 

So many passwords – so little time 

The survey asked people to estimate the time they spend hunting down usernames and passwords.  Averaging that out, it turns out that we are in fact spending around 12 full days of our lives searching for and resetting passwords.  Or, to put that in further context of a working day of 8 hours, we are spending the equivalent of five working weeks of our lives dedicated to the frustration of searching for passwords.  So, imagine that someone offered you a five-week break where your whole working day would be dedicated to searching usernames and passwords. Doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? 

Well, that’s what all of us are doing, just spread out over the course of our lives.  Five precious working weeks of our lives hunting for and re-setting usernames and passwords.  To take that out of the micro and into the macro, that means that every year, the online population of planet Earth is wasting 16 billion hours on this mind-numbing, productivity-deadening process of hunting passwords! In the tough and precarious world that we live in, there are so many other ways that 16 billion hours a year could be better spent. 

The username and password paradigm is a slow and pernicious waste of our productivity.  And again, this is something that mobile operators are able to address. 

Can subscribers agree on anything? 

Most subscribers would find it useful for mobile operators to handle sign-ins for apps and services. A whopping 76% of subscribers say they would find it useful for mobile operators to handle sign-ins.  It’s incredibly rare to find that over three-quarters of a subscriber base are interested in something.  It very rarely happens. Pre-SMS, if you had asked subscribers if they were interested in the ability to send 160-character messages from one phone to another, I doubt 76% would have said yes.  If you had asked subscribers whether they would like to watch video on their mobile devices, before 3G/4G, I doubt 76% would have said yes either. How times change.     

As people are using their mobile device to access multiple online accounts and apps, they are asking for a fix and they are open to their mobile operator being the source of that fix.  It is a very clear-cut example of pent-up demand and it is up to the mobile operators to grasp that opportunity. Gartner estimates that there will be over 20 billion connected devices by 2020 – there will be more usernames and passwords to remember!   

Bottom line: The username/password paradigm is the subscribers’ biggest frustration and most subscribers are willing to let their mobile operator end that frustration. 

In mobile operators they trust   

In a world where trust is a precious commodity, subscribers are comparatively trusting of their mobile operator to store their personal data. As few people would have failed to miss regular news stories about online hacks over the past few years, unsurprisingly, nearly half of mobile users (47%) say they don’t trust anyone to store their personal data.  Despite this, mobile operators seem comparatively benign to mobile users and are trusted to store their personal data, second only to online banks.  Mobile operators are, for example, more trusted than social networks, search engines and government intelligence services to store their personal data. 

And here’s the big surprise.  Young people American millennials trust their mobile operator more than online banks, more than social networks like Facebook, more than search engines like Google and most definitely more than government intelligence services.  This is good news for mobile operators.  They are seen as relatively trustworthy and they have the emotional credit to introduce services and where they are trusted to handle subscribers’ personal data.   

Bottom line: For operators considering a Single Sign-On service, they should be comforted that they are seen as relatively trustworthy by their subscribers – especially amongst millennials.   

The opportunity is crystal clear for mobile operators.  Subscribers waste a lot of time hunting for usernames and passwords. No wonder it is their biggest online frustration on their mobiles. The majority would find it useful for their mobile operator to handle sign-ins for apps and services to make it safer and faster.   

John Giere, President and CEO of Openwave Mobility 

Image Credit: / Shutterstock

John Giere
John Giere is the president and CEO of Openwave Mobility. He has over 20 years of wireless industry management experience. John served as CMO for Alcatel-Lucent and for Lucent Technologies.