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Midata legislation – almost there

Posted on: Friday 22nd of March 2013

Legislation to enforce midata – consumers’ right to request an electronic copy of data held by the company – is all but complete. With one final reading of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill planned for the House of Commons on April 16, the provisions look pretty much certain to receive Royal Assent soon after Easter.

In its current form, the Bill doesn’t directly provide consumers with the right to demand their data. Instead, it gives Ministers powers to make regulations some time in the future if they decide that voluntary progress towards data release isn’t proceeding at a fast enough pace.

The data covered by the provisions includes any data that “relates to transactions between the regulated person and the customer”.

While the Bill focuses on regulated industries – particularly energy, mobile phones, current accounts and credit cards – it also includes a catch all phrase defining ‘a regulated person’ as a person “who, in the course of a business, supplies or provides goods or services of a description specified in the regulations”. This opens the door to potential enforcement in other sectors.

Once the Bill has received Royal Assent, there will be a period of time during which Ministers will assess progress in the voluntary programme. Then, if they decide to go to the next stage, they have the power to introduce secondary legislation. This will require its own separate consultation and impact assessment.

Building momentum

The effects of these moves work at many different levels:

  • The idea itself Not long ago, the idea of individuals gathering and managing their own data for their own purposes was unfamiliar to the point of seeming outlandish.

Now it’s rapidly gaining currency, included in the new draft EU Data Protection regulations and in the US Government’s innovation priorities. Announcing a Presidential Fellowship for its MyData programme, the White House in January, the White House said it would be working “with public sector and private sector organizations to continue to expand the ability for Americans to securely and privately access their own data from wherever it might be, and encourage the development of private-sector tools and services that help people utilize their own data for their own benefit.” The more the idea spreads, the more people think about it, the more opportunities they see to create new value. This is a spur to an already fast-growing industry of data services to individuals.

  • Corporate attention With midata on the statute books companies are now being forced to decide what to do. Whether they decide to pre-empt secondary legislation by making data available to customers now, or whether they decide to wait and see, either way they have to decide. Midata is now on their radar. If it was being ignored before, it can’t be any longer. The obvious knock-on question is: ‘If it’s going to happen anyway, how to turn it into an opportunity rather than a burden?’
  • Action What this means is increased data availability. It may start as a tiny trickle, but over the next few months and years, more and more companies will be releasing data back to customers turning the outlandish into the new normal.
  • Momentum There’s a spiral effect here. Companies telling customers they can do it; consumers becoming aware they can do it; data actually becoming available; service providers offering new services that use this data; which in turn further raises awareness and demand. That is what’s being triggered here: a virtuous spiral of increasing awareness, demand, usage and value creation.

From theory to practice

There’s lots else going on. Work on establishing a robust framework for consumer protection and trust is intensifying. New initiatives to help both existing suppliers and new entrants to innovate using midata data should be announced soon, with some specific initiatives already under way. How about using QR codes to simplify getting data you need from your energy bill, for example?

At one level, what’s happening with midata represents a complete paradigm shift: that strange idea of empowering individuals as managers and users of their own data. At another level however it’s an intensely practical challenge: how to make it easy enough and useful enough for individuals and service providers (whether existing incumbents to outside innovators) to bother?

That’s the tipping point we’ve now reached.