Did you see the news about Carrier IQ covertly capturing Android users' activities for analysis by carriers? Trevor Eckhart, who analyzed the application, writes:

Carrier IQ software, which consists of embedded software on mobile devices and server-side analytics applications, enables mobile operators and device OEMs to understand in detail a wide range of performance and usage characteristics of mobile services and devices. These include both network-facing services such as core voice and data offerings, as well as non-network-facing capabilities such as music players, cameras and other side loaded media, in order to assist with product and service development and roll-out [emphasis added].

Customer Intelligence is not a spying operation. The promise of CI is not reductively commercial. Instead, proper CI practices help businesses – with their customers' consent – to understand the preferences and needs of their customers. Firms also use CI processes and technologies to determine and enforce an optimal and respectful relationship with customers.

What lessons does the Carrier IQ incident highlight?

  • CI pros have an ethical responsibility to customers. CI pros are customer advocates after all. They cannot truly represent customers unless they also help their employers understand appropriate boundaries for data capture. Helping customers also helps businesses, protecting firms from the risk of public outrage and litigation. CI pros: Help your employers understand when data capture goes too far.
  • Capturing enough data isn't the problem. Forty-three percent of CI pros tell us that too many data sources prevent them from developing a comprehensive view of the customer. Those who deceitfully add text messages and encrypted searches to the data warehouse are not going to help “improve product and service deployment.” CI pros: Clarify when adding data points will obscure, rather than unearth, insights.
  • Marketing technologist are front-line customer advocates. Marketing technologists play the most important role in ethical CI, since they develop and evangelize data-enabled customer interfaces. These CI pros cannot afford to yield to a "capture at all cost" approach, lest they be the first to overreach. CI pros: Review new marketing technologies with an eye on values, not just capabilities.

Ethics is a rare topic of discussion within CI circles. Yet if CI pros don't take a stand, the result will be a tragedy of the commons, through either customer backlash or legislation. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read Fatemeh Khatibloo's excellent Personal Identity Management for an in-depth look at how CI pros can improve the future of customer data.