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A key strand of VEON’s strategy is digital leadership.

As voice revenues stagnate and decline, the growth of data traffic across our networks, and new internet-based business models, provide opportunities to provide enhanced services to customers, while growing new revenue streams and streamlining our own operational processes. 

Data traffic on our network has grown from 0.44 million terabytes in 2013 to 1.13 million terabytes in 2015, and this explosion in use, and of internet access, creates challenges for us and our customers, as well as the obvious benefits. 

As the digital environment and data are not confined to national boundaries, the situation is complicated – digital players are often multicountry organizations but legal frameworks are often national. Transferring data across international borders can be a legally complex exercise, as seen in recent developments such as the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union, which invalidated the EU-US ‘safe harbor’ program, which facilitated the transfers of personal data originating in Europe to the USA. Additional steps, such as written agreements, are now necessary to legitimize such data transfers. Similarly, operators are seeking clarification and practical guidance on the requirements of a recent Russian ‘data localization’ law which requires that all personal data of Russian citizens (whether customers or employees) are stored on servers in Russia.


Many of the benefits of mobile services are possible only because operators collect and hold data on their customers, such as information on billing, location and browsing preferences. While benefiting society in many ways, ICT also provides potential for data to be misused, including criminally, for financial or political gain. Continuing public concern over personal privacy includes fears that:

  • irresponsible use of personal data by corporations could lead to activities that intrude on the privacy of individuals, or financial loss, reputational damage or other harm to individuals
  • major data security breaches and cyber-attacks may put the personal data of individuals at risk 
  • government has substantial access to personal data, which may intrude on privacy, curtail public protest or free speech. 

Privacy, data protection and commercial use of data

The legitimate boundaries of data analysis and use by companies for commercial purposes continues to be debated. As an operator, we must ensure that commercial benefits of analyzing and using the data we hold (within legal limits), are realized in accordance with the law and not at the cost of the trust our customers place in us. 

Our businesses operate in markets with varied regulatory regimes on data security and privacy. During 2013 and 2014, we compared these local approaches with the different regulatory frameworks in force around the world and developed a Group standard intended to bring all operations (including those operating in countries where no regulatory frameworks exist), to an appropriate level of customer data protection. Subsequently, each of our BUs developed a plan to address any gaps highlighted by this extensive exercise. In early 2015, our Customer Data Governance Policy was approved. This sets out the standard referred to above and through this we aim to maintain the trust of our customers as we manage their personal data. The Policy establishes four key Privacy Principles:

  • Transparency
  • Processing Purpose and Data Minimization 
  • Customer Rights 
  • Protection of Information. 

During 2015, we continued to monitor the implementation of the BU plans referred to above. We recognize the importance of this issue to our customers and are always trying to improve.

In line with this, we require our businesses to report on incidents relating to managing customer data. This is summarized in table 12.

Privacy performance


Number of complaints received from third parties relating to our management of customer privacy


Number of complaints received from regulatory bodies relating to our management of customer privacy


Number of instances of customer data loss


Government access

Mobile operators rely entirely on governments for access to radio spectrum and operating licenses. Operating licenses, all over the world, often contain clauses allowing government to access customer data where this is necessary for purposes such as crime prevention and national security.

In different countries, this can operate:

  •  by presentation of a court order to the operator, requiring the operator to provide specific data items
  •  by presentation of a court order to the operator, after which the government can access the relevant database directly, facilitated by the operator 
  • by direct access to the relevant data, following a court procedure, which does not require the involvement of the operator. 

We have BUs which operate under each of these types of regime. Several of the license agreements we operate under also forbid any form of disclosure on the nature or extent of access to data, which constrains what we are able to report on this important topic.

Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression is a basic human right and is frequently in the spotlight as a result of the growing use of the internet for hate speech and incitement to extremism, as well as peaceful civil protest. For a mobile operator, freedom of expression concerns can range from very specific issues affecting a small number of users, such as the blocking of a particular website, to the enforced closure of the mobile network in one or more cities, which affects millions of customers. 

This is a complex issue as freedom to express a view for one group can be deeply offensive to another. A closed network can be restrictive for those wanting to organize legitimate political protests, but could be important for security agencies combating terrorism. Research1 indicates that network closures increased globally between 2005 and 2014 and several of our markets, including Pakistan and Kazakhstan, experienced government instructions to close our networks in areas of these countries. The balance between providing safety from terrorism and other threats for citizens, and restrictions on civil protest, and vital day-to-day uses of communications, is complex and controversial. As a mobile operator, we must act in accordance with our license agreements and other relevant legislation on this issue.

As well as network closure, we may be requested to block certain websites. On some issues, such as child pornography, there is generally universal agreement on the need to censor and report such sites.

Our commercial instincts are to enable the maximum amount of network traffic, and therefore, it runs counter to our objectives, and the trust customers place in us, to block popular sites such as YouTube or social media platforms. However, we must comply when the government, through the law, requires sites to be blocked or networks to be closed.

Throughout 2015, we have been discussing internally and externally the options available to us to mitigate concerns on these topics. This has included: 

  • Joining a meeting of the Telecommunication Industry Dialogue on Freedom of Expression and Privacy as an observer
  • Consulting with colleagues across our BUs. We continue to monitor what is a highly complex and sensitive issue.

1Center For Democracy and Technology

Online Safety

Due to its very open nature, the internet can bring certain risks, including the exposure of children to inappropriate content, or encounters with ‘predatory’ users.

Since 2012, Kyivstar in Ukraine and Beeline in Russia, have provided customers with parental control solutions and extensive education programs that help them protect children from internet threats. Beeline also subscribes to the Russian national initiatives the Safe Internet League, the Mobile Etiquette Charter, and the Russian Operators Charter on Combating Child Pornography.

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