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They know what and where you browsed last summer

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MWC 2013 Mobile network operators are already storing your browsing data for a year to better target advertising and optimise the network. But is that any worse than Google harvesting the same thing?

Not according to Guavus, one of the companies providing the monitoring technology, which last month acquired "mobile data intelligence" biz Neuralitic to help operators make money out of their customers' online activity. Guavus was in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress to remind everyone that punters trust their network operators more than they do Google, and if they're happy to be tracked by the search giant then why not by Sprint too?

Guavus' clients know a lot more than Google, of course, even before applying Neuralitic's techniques: the operator knows a customer's home address - still the single most-valuable bit of data for advertisers - along with everywhere they've been (stored for law-enforcement purposes) not to mention their name and age. These are all details Google has spent millions trying to acquire with Google+, but switch on Guavus' kit and the operator gets every web session, every site visited and every byte downloaded too, enough to make Google look ill-informed.

Squeezing value out of that data is what Neuralitic does, and while the biz can't mention many operators (Sprint being one of the few) it is in trials with all the US networks and expanding rapidly into Europe and Asia.

Guavus has been providing analysis of operator data for a while, focussing on how to improve network coverage and reduce network costs. Knowing what applications customers are using where, and how often, can feed into load balancing and simplify decisions about caching and peering deals, but with Neuralitic on board operators can start spinning that data into gold.

If an operator sees new customers, who'll have arrived from a competitor in most markets, make heavy use of YouTube or Facebook then it knows which service to emphasis in its next round of advertising - most of the analytics used today is based on that kind of crowd data, but with Neuralitic Guavus can also create very personal profiles.

Louis Brun, Neuralitic's founder, is unapologetic: "If I have to trust someone with my data then I want to trust the company I've had a 15-year relationship with", pointing out that mobile operators are well governed by national regulators while Google and its ilk slip, slide and ultimately face off against watchdogs, both national and international.

More concerning, to anyone tracking our browsing habits, is the increasing use of optimising proxies such as Opera's Turbo and Nokia's Xpress, with which the only connection visible to the operator is that to the proxy. Brun isn't bothered, claiming that enough data falls out from apps and un-proxied traffic, but users of such systems are making a decision to share their browsing history with the company running the proxy, instead of the network operator, though few will understand the importance of that distinction. ®

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