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Mobile tech's bright future has a dark side

Tom Kaneshige | Nov. 14, 2013
Experts at the Open Mobile Summit discuss the future of mobility, some have a rosy view, some a darker perspective. Perhaps mobile innovation can make life easier, but what will it cost you in terms of privacy?

In the futuristic film noir "Blade Runner" (1989) set in Los Angeles in November 2019, only six years from now, Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, goes to his kitchen to pour a drink. The lights come on without Deckard saying a word.

In San Francisco this week at the Open Mobile Summit, mobility experts shared a similar rosy vision of mobile technology that predicts and delivers services people want without being told. It's a world where everything works seamlessly, everything is connected. No more choosing between Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or NFC. No more carrying around bulky smartphones (think: wearables). No more standing in checkout lines at retail stores.

At the center of this world stands the customer. Mobility experts claim that every mobile innovation is geared toward making life easier for the customer. What about privacy? They say people are willing to give up personal information and opt-in to location tracking and push notifications if they're getting something of value in return.

The Future of Mobility Is Bright — Or Is It?
Like Blade Runner, the mobile technology story has a dark side, which didn't come about until late afternoon on Open Mobile Summit's first day. A panel of payment executives from American Express, The Home Depot and Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) gathered to discuss the futuristic mobile wallet and what might drive mobile payments in the real world today.

panelists, Open Mobile Summit
From left to right: Stefan Happ at American Express, Malcolm Nunes at The Home Depot, Dodd Roberts at Merchant Customer Exchange and moderator Gloria Colgan, MD, Market Platform Dynamic

These mobility realists didn't think much of the e-wallet: "Plastic remains en vogue," says Stefan Happ, senior senior vice president of online and mobile at American Express; "We really like cash," says Malcolm Nunes, senior manager of financial services at The Home Depot. Customers seem to be happy with current payment methods, they claim, so why change it?

Dodd Roberts, senior executive at MCX, warned about the dangers of moving too quickly toward mobility's great potential, a theme echoed in many earlier sessions. He reminded attendees that companies had bought into the ecommerce hype and got ahead of themselves, which led to massive online fraud.

A mobile wallet also raises the sticky issue of customer data, Roberts adds. Let's say a third-party mobile wallet provider offers a digital coupon for The Home Depot and collects data on customers using it. Then the third-party provider can profit by going to a nearby Lowe's to sell services armed with the number (and perhaps identities) of The Home Depot customers in the area.

"As the market leader, a [mobile wallet] would only take market share from us," Nunes says.


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