The Guardian reports today (UK mobile phone firms to sell data about customer activity) that mobile telecomms firms have been harvesting data about their customers web browsing habits, and that they plan to uses these data to increase advertising revenues.

The GSMA’s chief marketing officer, Michael O’Hara, said: "We can see the top sites, see where people are browsing regularly. See the time that sites are being viewed, the number of visits, the duration of visits and we can also get demographic data so you can have age ranges, male/female ranges. 

 They’ve been collecting this information for about a year now, and claim that this has been above-board as regards EU and UK legislation.  But then again, the same sort of claims are made by BT and their partners in (probable) crime, Phorm.  At least they appear to be aware of the opt-in requirement:

O’Hara stressed that any advertising service that relied upon tying traffic data with personal demographic information would be done on an opt-in basis. 

But this is deep packet inspection, as the following paragraphs make clear:

In its trial, the UK’s five networks – 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone – used deep packet inspection technology to collect data covering about half the UK’s entire mobile web traffic.

The trial results, to be released today, show that 68% of mobile phone users visited their network’s online portal while the top "off-portal" destination was Google.

Users spent most time on Facebook, clocking up about 24 minutes a day, compared with 27.5 minutes by computer users. Mobile users visited the social networking site an average of 3.3 times a day, more often than their counterparts in the fixed-line internet world.

Mobile web usage peaks between 7am and 10am, according to the data.

Well, it’s all very well having the system as "opt-in", but even when BT customers have opted out of the Phorm system, their web browsing still gets routed through Phrom’s hardware.  Will this also be the case for the mobile telecomms data bandits listed above?

Perhaps I won’t be renewing my Vodafone contract when it finishes.

See also:
Chris Williams’ report at The Register: Mobile operators combine to flog customer data