If consumers want to protect their privacy and ensure security of their data they need to understand the business models that underpin free online and mobile applications, Deutsche Telekom's new CEO told attendees at Mobile World Congress this week.

"There's nothing free in life," said Timotheus Höttges, in his first keynote address since taking the helm of the German incumbent at the start of the year.

Customers have never been educated about the way the business model works with a free application. If you are getting something for free, "you're not the customer, you're the product," he warned.

Over-the-top players and telcos have a responsibility to define the rules about how user information will be used, he added.

The fragmented regulatory environment doesn't help, Höttges said. In Germany, for example, there are rules against analysing big data, which means in some cases data is sent outside the country for analysis.

"We need the same data protection rights," he said.

"We need new security standards…[and] we need a common understanding."

Renewed interest from end users around privacy and security can create an opening for telecoms operators though, especially among big corporate customers and to some extent SMEs.

"This is a big opportunity for us as a carrier," said Höttges, noting that in Germany there is huge demand from enterprises for secure cloud offerings, encrypted voice, secure smartphones and so on.