While I was attending AT&T’s Developer Summit during CES in Las Vegas, by chance I bumped into a developer who told me about his contribution to the hackathon.
I didn’t catch his name but he told me about his application, which he said had won the Sponsored Data Challenge.
His application used a fitness tracker, in this case a FitBit, to monitor activity levels of housekeepers. It’s for making sure the staff isn’t loafing on the job. It’s designed for hotels, large office complexes, etc. Because the app requires a smartphone to transfer the data, the company using it on its employees would pick up the tab for the required mobile data.
I thought it sounded like a novel use for a fitness tracker. But how he described his app made it sound more ominous.
“It’s a little Big Brother-ish,” he said.
Watching the vitals of housekeepers to make sure they’re not just watching TV in the hotel room isn’t exactly the dystopian future that has been foretold. But the implication of such a program is that consent to biometric surveillance is obtained by simply eliminating data charges.
Carlton Hill, Vice President of Device Operations and Developer Services at AT&T, didn’t necessarily see the Orwellian implications of this app when I described it to her. But she admitted that sponsored data is still a very new phenomenon for AT&T.
Hill also outlined a sponsored data application that would allow United Healthcare to share more important information with patients in the hopes people can stay healthier longer.
It’s true that sponsored data has some benevolent, or at least fairly benign, applications. And the primary argument against sponsored data is that it belies net neutrality principles by allowing Internet companies to buy preferential treatment on networks, therefore assumedly leaving those who can’t pay in the dust.
But as sponsored data moves toward wider use and acceptance, a new debate could arise.
Syntonic, a sponsored data services provider that just released cross-mobile operator and native application support for its Freeway Developer Toolkit, sees 2015 as the year sponsored data goes big.
“We expect 2015 to be a watershed year in the mainstream adoption of sponsored data for consumer, enterprise, education and other markets,” Syntonic CEO Gary Greenbaum said in a statement. “With hundreds of thousands of iOS and Android app developers, the addressable sponsored data market is boundless, and we’re now providing mobile developers with a new way to differentiate their applications by bundling connectivity with their applications or content.”
If Greenbaum’s predictions come true, more of us could start coming face to face with sponsored data quandaries. If we’re willing to let companies and developers cover the cost of mobile data for us, we’ll have to start setting boundaries for what they can take from us in return.
Filed Under: Industry regulations