Mobile phone companies have drawn up plans to monitor text messages and voice calls and pass the information to advertisers. Companies such as Motorola have developed technology to scan messages for information about where customers are and what they are doing.
Although they claim that the service would be used only with customers consent but privacy groups have deep concerns about the technology and the potential for phone companies to abuse it.
Advertising via mobile phones has long been regarded as potentially profitable by phone and advertising companies. The appeal lies not only in the huge number of people who use mobile phones but also in the fact that advertisers could reach younger people who may be harder to reach via traditional media. Mobile phones also allow for better targeting of advertisements than traditional media.
Under the Motorola plans, software would be installed on mobile phones to search for related words in text messages. If the words hungry and food were picked up, for example, an advertisement for a local restaurant could be sent to that user.
Kenneth Keller, Motorolas chief marketing officer, said: We have a technology which allows us to search, to understand not only where that person might be but also what their interests might be. You figure out if the person is going out for dinner or shopping and trying to find a particular retail outlet, for example.
Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said: We have deep concerns about this kind of technology. Phone companies may be talking about opting in to such schemes and providing incentives to customers to sign up, but down the line it is more likely you will be penalised if you dont sign up.
Three weeks ago, the first such service was introduced. Blyk offers customers free airtime minutes if they agree to receive advertisements on their handsets. To receive the service, Blyk customers must first give details of their spending habits and planned purchases on a website. Phone companies believe that the service could be combined with GPS technology now a feature of many mobile phones to allow them to identify where a user is and send them advertising.
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