AT&T CTO admits 'creepy' level of information on customers

Cloud-based mobility probably won't give customers control

We may have passed into some new section of the no-privacy maze, considering the way the CTO of a major wireless carrier describes his company's plans for customers during the next few years.

Carriers will be using cloud-based applications, servers and storage to back up wireless networks to give customers places to store all the data about their lives and activities, which they would be able to access from anywhere using the device of their choice, according to John Donovan, AT&T's chief technology officer in a speech today at a wireless conference in Barcelona.

Not only could customers store their own information, they could find addresses, phone numbers and a variety of other data about other people or companies through search- and data-access applications in the same clouds, he said.

The result will be tremendously useful, and highly customizable so customers can choose when and through what medium other people may contact them, for example.

"Answers to everything will be at our fingertips, and [the information will be] more mobile and more ubiquitous," Donovan said.

They'll also be more appropriate to what you actually want to know, by bringing up Favorites when you search TV shows or lists of contacts, or listing only businesses you often visit or that satisfy criteria you set ahead of time when you do a search.

"This is the difference between discovery and search, and [then] find," he said

But the amount of information about any single person or company – including the ability to find or follow them remotely – has the potential to be "spooky" or even "creepy," he said.

No kidding.

The level of personalization and local search he projects as being possible in the cloud is actually already available through the kinds of apps he should know are available on iPhones and Android devices.

What's missing is a cloud-based database and security filter that can pull together all your information in one place and protect it so AT&T's business partners can get to all the information they want about your behavior but you can't even see what's there to try to protect it.

It's roughly like your credit score, which is open to basically any company that knows who you are, but is only available to you on a limited basis, and with a limited ability to correct if there are errors.

In both cases the impact on you and your personal or financial world are huge. There are very few protections on your personal information, though, and not much on the horizon that could do anything to protect it.

Interesting that the chief geek at a carrier would lay out a technology vision that's so unimpressive, but label the things people are already using his network to do as "creepy."

I doubt that means the carriers or any other IT company is going to voluntarily raise their protection of customer privacy, but at least a few of them recognize how much people hate it.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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