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Government launches personal data sharing initiative with major businesses

Consumers will be able to manage personal data some major private sector businesses hold about them under a new electronic data sharing scheme, the Government has announced.04 Nov 2011

The Department for Business, Skills and Innovation (BIS) said that 19 major brands, including Google, Royal Bank of Scotland, British Gas and Visa, had all signed up to the voluntary 'midata' scheme. The scheme will "give consumers increasing access to their personal data in a portable, electronic format" under "an agreed, common approach" to data sharing, BIS said.

"Midata recognises and supports the principle of individuals using their own customer information to gain an insight into their own behaviour, make more informed choices and better decisions, to manage their affairs more efficiently, and to obtain the products and services that best meet their needs.," BIS said in a statement.

Under the scheme consumers will eventually be able to access and manage their personal data in order to gain the best deals from businesses, including energy suppliers and mobile phone companies, BIS said.

"Midata will allow consumers to access their data in a safe and secure way and make better decisions reflecting their personal wants and needs," BIS said.

"New services made possible by midata will further assist consumers, whether it be in getting the best deal on their mobile phone contract or energy tariff, or managing their lives more efficiently. Midata is also working with companies to develop common approaches that will allow customers to access their data including their contact details, current tariffs and contracts, etc and update basic information about themselves," it said.

BIS said organisations involved in the scheme should ensure the customer data they were making available was accurate and up-to-date and easily accessible "in a safe, privacy-friendly, portable and re-usable manner". The organisations should also "minimise risks of data breaches and invasions of privacy" and work with others to "encourage the innovation of new consumer information services" that adhere to midata standards, it said.

Organisations involved in the scheme should be guided by certain 'consumer data' principles when making personal data available to individuals, BIS said. The principles include making the data available in "an open standard format" that is "reusable" and "machine-readable" in as standard form as is possible across sectors and ensuring that consumers can "access, retrieve and store their data securely". Consumers should also be able to access the information quickly when requested, the information should be "actionable and useful" to the individuals and should enable them to "analyse, manipulate, integrate and share" the information "as they see fit - including participating in collaborative or group purchasing," BIS said.

The midata scheme was developed in partnership with industry, consumer bodies and regulators. The UK's data protection watchdog said that the new scheme was to be "welcomed".

Midata presents an innovative and empowering opportunity for consumers," Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner said in a statement.

"It goes without saying that privacy and data security principles must continue to be upheld and I’m pleased that consumer data security has been a key strand from the outset. I look forward to continuing to work with the Government and businesses to ensure the scheme complies with the Data Protection Act," he said.

Under UK data protection laws organisations have certain responsibilities when handling personal data, including ensuring the information is processed fairly and lawfully and is secured from accidental damage or loss.

Amy Hunter, commercial law expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said the new project would act as "an effective marketing tool" for companies in some industries that have struggled to secure consumer confidence.

"In an economic climate where consumers are increasingly conscious of their spending habits, the midata project presents businesses with an opportunity to provide added value," Hunter said.

"This new age of 'consumer empowerment' will allow consumers to make more informed choices about products and services on offer in the market place.  Providing consumers with access to their data in a free electronic portable format could provide businesses with a new platform to connect with existing and future customers.  The availability of midata could  prove an effective marketing tool whilst significantly enhancing  the perception of transparency in sectors such as banking and energy where consumer trust has been damaged," she said.

BIS said the data sharing scheme would benefit the economy, businesses and consumers and was in line with the Government's "broader focus on openness and transparency".

"[Midata] will help achieve economic growth by improving information sharing between organisations and their customers, sharpening incentives for businesses to compete keenly on price, service and quality, building trust and facilitating the creation a new market for personal information services that empower individuals to use their own data for their own purposes," BIS said.

"Organisations can help realise the goals of midata by providing customers with the ability to access and re-use their ‘customer data’ – including data about customer transactions, interactions and usage behaviours that organisations collect," it said.

Consumer Affairs Minister Ed Davey said that the midata scheme had prompted interest from the US and EU and showed the UK as a world leader in redressing the balance in "information management" between consumers and businesses.

"Personal data inventories" (PDIs), describing the types of data organisations hold about each customer, will be published and new privacy, data security and consumer protection "protocols" will be established during the next stage of the midata scheme, BIS said.

BIS said it hopes consumers will be able to access their personal data electronically under the new scheme in the first half of next year.