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Government’s Mydata strategy

Posted on: Tuesday 12th of April 2011

Today the Government launched its new Better Choices: Better Deals Consumer Empowerment strategy, of which Mydata is a key part.


Mydata is an initiative to encourage businesses to release data back to individuals in a portable re-usable way – so that the data becomes a useful resource for the individual as well as for the company.


This is a landmark move towards personal information empowerment.  Ctrl-Shift attended a special Roundtable at No 10 Downing Street as part of the consultations around this proposal. I was asked to give a short presentation. Here is what I said:


Roundtable on Consumer Empowerment Strategy

Alan Mitchell

March 15, 2011

“I would like to make two points about privacy.

First, if you think about it, privacy is a personal setting. By definition.

Only the individual knows what information he or she feels comfortable sharing, with who, for what purposes, and in what contexts. So privacy as an organisational setting – a blanket, top-down privacy policy set by the organisation is bound to be unsatisfactory.

If privacy is a personal setting, you need an input of information from the individual: ‘what privacy means to me’. To some degree or other, you need to empower the individual with the ability to specify the rules of information sharing. This is potentially transformational.

Second, when we talk about privacy we are not just talking about a dislike of snooping or intrusion or a fear of big brother. We are talking about control and personal autonomy – respect for the individual – and value: the value of the information and what it is being used for. So it is both psychologically and economically important.

If we put these two factors together – information from individuals about their needs and preferences plus personal autonomy and economic value – we are looking at a huge opportunity for innovation and growth. A new industry of consumer-empowering services.

Information technology is making this possible by transforming the ways individuals and organisations interact. As a result, a new wave of Personal Information Management Services, or PIMS, is emerging.

Some PIMS make the user the point of integration. In financial services for example, services like Mint, Thrive, Yodlee and moneyStrands are drawing together information from multiple different financial accounts to help individuals get a full picture of their financial affairs, and manage their money better. This principle of the user as the point of integration has widespread potential in areas such as health, public services, financial services, travel and so on.

Others PIMS are helping individuals research and make better decisions: the whole explosion of price comparison, product and peer review sites and so on – including new mobile phone based services such as TheFind and Shop Savvy which help users compare prices while in store.  Like privacy, a better decision is a personal setting – it reflects what my needs and priorities are right now.

Other PIMS help individuals manage their personal data better. The new start-up Allow is helping consumers control spam and tell marketers what they are interested in buying. Mydex, Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault are all exploring different ways of helping individuals collect, store, analyse and share the information they need to manage their lives better, in ways that they can control.

Mydex, for example, are currently live testing a revolutionary new ‘subscribe to me’ service where individuals store information they need to manage their own lives on their own personal data store, and organisations request a subscription to specific fields of this information – for example, postal and email address. If the individual wants to have a relationship with this organisation, then every time the individual updates the data in their own personal data store the organisation is instantly and securely informed of this update, without the individual having to log in to the organisations website, remember passwords and so on.

By putting the individual in control, this person- or citizen-centric approach to personal data management builds trust and encourages trust-based information-sharing between individuals and organisations. For example, by enabling individuals to provide a range of different proofs of identity – 5, 7 or more – it shifts the goalposts away from the quest for single ‘gold standard’ form of verification that instantly becomes a target for fraudsters.

  • Privacy as a personal setting.
  • The user as the point of integration.
  • Decision-making as source of consumer value in its own right.
  • The individual, rather than the organisation, as the manager of personal data
  • The individual, rather than the organisation, as the relationship manager
  • The individual with a vested interest in managing his own identity and reputation

These are all different aspects of personal information empowerment. And they all have one thing in common. They point to a breakthrough in information logistics: getting the right information to, and from, the right people at the right time.

Information logistics is economic gold-dust because with it, product and service providers can reduce guesswork and waste (i.e. improve operational efficiencies) and focus precious resources on doing the right thing at the right time (effectiveness).

So: empowering consumers with their own information has potentially significant economic benefits both as a launch pad for new businesses and services – a source of growth and innovation; a new industry perhaps – and as an opportunity for existing companies to cut costs and improve service.

For this, we need new infrastructure for these new types of information sharing along with the development of new ‘information contracts’ between individuals and organisations to allow for richer more trust-based information sharing.

There are many people already making money in this space. But at the moment, the massive economic potential of this market is only being dimly recognised, along with its intimate connections to the future of privacy and identity assurance. With the right initiatives the Government can provide significant impetus to this emerging market without the need for significant changes to legislation or regulation.


For more detail on what the changing personal data landscape will look like, take a look at our briefing (you need to register to access this). We’ll also be publishing a briefing on the Government strategy once we’ve had a chance to analyse the detail. We expect to have posted this briefing on site by Friday April 15.


Alan Mitchell