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Midata Gives Consumers Back Their Personal Info

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BIS has partnered Google, Mastercard and others to help consumers access the data companies hold on them

The UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) is teaming up with 26 private sector organisations to give consumers greater access to their personal data in a portable, electronic format.

The programme, known as midata, is designed to give individuals greater insight into their own behaviour and help them make more informed choices about products and services. For example, if you can access all the personal data your mobile operator has about how you use your phone, you can theoretically use price comparison sites or phone apps to get a deal that best fits your needs.

“This is the way the world is going and the UK is currently leading the charge,” said Consumer Affairs Minister, Edward Davey. “High-quality firms that can respond best to customers will drive innovation, competition and growth and in turn will win more business.

“By increasing transparency and giving more power to you – the consumer – you will be better placed to get the deal you want – and that may put a bit of extra money in your back pocket,” he added.

Data security is key

Businesses currently signed up to midata include Google, British Gas, MasterCard and RBS. In an attempt to allay the inevitable privacy concerns, the government has also recruited a number of consumer groups and regulators – including Ofcom, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Consumer Focus – that are working with midata to represent consumers’ interests.

“Midata presents an innovative and empowering opportunity for consumers,” said Information Commissioner Christopher Graham. “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.”

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group also said that data protection would be key to the success of the scheme.

“Getting your data back is good. But midata must be accompanied by a stronger Data Protection Act, with a right to delete your data, or consumers could be victims of parasitic data or finance companies tempting people to share more than is good for them,” he said.

Government transparency

The programme is part of the government’s wider transparency initiative, which includes two consultations entitled “Making Open Data Real” and “Data Policy for a Public Data Corporation”. The first asks what data should be made freely available via the government’s open data scheme; the second explores questions on key aspects of data policy such as charging, licensing and regulation of public sector information.

“Public sector information underpins a growing part of the economy,” said Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude earlier this year. “The technology that is around today allows people to use and re-use this information in new and different ways. The role of government is to help maximise the benefits of these developments.”

Both consultations closed on 27 October. The results are expected to be announced in the coming months.