A year ago, to the week, I was writing Chapter 8 of The Business of Influence about the future trends each and every influence professional would have to grasp. In particular, I wrote:

I consider the data and information I create directly or indirectly through my use of products and services to be private and mine by default. I may choose to make any part of it accessible to specified others and maintain my ownership, or relinquish some ownership rights, or all rights.

Should I consider entering a contract with the purchase of a product or service that entails some variation to this default – perhaps simply because delivery of the product or service is meaningless without such variation – the nature of this variation must be made explicitly clear to me in plain language, and it is then my choice whether or not to agree to those terms, which may entail my negotiating different terms or choosing not to buy that specific product or service.

To me, a future where so much data is collected about me and owned by others is nothing short of dystopia. Of course, the situation I describe above is far from where we find ourselves today and I make the case that influence professionals should be helping to lead the charge toward empowering the customer – past, present and future. As such, the chapter continues to lay out a potential privacy framework, introducing Streams Banks:

It’s the moniker I’ve given the service with the primary purpose of collecting all your digital detritus, all your so-called life streams of data, in one place on your behalf and giving you the power to analyse and visualize it all.

A streams bank archives the minutiae of your life, if you so wish. The service may offer suggestions or advice in decision-making, and perhaps it may even be relied upon to make certain decisions for you autonomously.

What on Earth could catalyse this transformation?..

Imagine that you’re a mobile telephone network operator. Right now, you own the data describing the customer’s use of your network. What competitive advantage might be had by reversing that situation, by transferring ownership to the customer – on the condition of service of course that you can have access to their data in order to determine billing and associated aspects of your service provision? And what if you gave the customer the tools to learn about her data, to download it and share it with whomever she wished. What might she learn about herself and her family? How might this data be mashed up? How much easier would it be to source the perfect tariff for the next year given the opportunity to share last year’s data? If you think that sounds bad for business you’re effectively saying that opacity is good. History has shown that walled gardens and other protective practices eventually crumble in competitive telephony markets.

Well, it seems this day is dawning.

The UK government has just announced that a voluntary group of 26 major organisations are coming together to deliver a vision known as midata, and the full press release is included verbatim below. This is simply fantastic news, although it's worth pointing out the massive gap that still needs to be closed between the definition of midata as it stands today and my Streams Banks vision...

midata still treats the data as 'owned' by the organisations – they are simply releasing the data "back to consumers". The Streams Bank outcome envisages that the data is owned by the individual who may cede rights to the organisation, as desired or required by the delivery of the particular product or service. A subtle difference perhaps, but with wide ramifications.

This announcement is as much a great day for the UK as the Digital Economy Act wasn't.

Government, business and consumer groups commit to midata vision of consumer empowerment

03 November 2011 12:00

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills   (National)

The Government today announced a ground-breaking partnership with 26 major organisations that will see them working together to deliver a new era of consumer empowerment.

The businesses, consumer bodies and regulators involved are all committed to working with Government to achieve its vision for midata, launched today. And all are endorsing the key principle that data should be released back to consumers.

midata is a voluntary programme the Government is undertaking with industry, which over time will give consumers increasing access to their personal data in a portable, electronic format. Individuals will then be able to use this data to gain insights into their own behaviour, make more informed choices about products and services, and manage their lives more efficiently.

Today’s announcement marks the first time globally there has been such a Government-backed initiative to empower individuals with so much control over the use of their own data.

The overall aim of midata is to benefit the economy, by stimulating innovation and growth, as well as companies and consumers:

For the economy

- midata will encourage sustainable economic growth by boosting competition between companies in terms of value and service, and driving innovation.

For business

- midata will create opportunities for businesses through improved dialogue with consumers and increased trust, and the opportunity to provide innovative new personal information services and tools.

For consumers

- midata will allow consumers to access their data in a safe and secure way and make better decisions reflecting their personal wants and needs. 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.

Launching the midata vision, Consumer Affairs Minister, Edward Davey said: “Currently, most consumer data is held by service providers, meaning only one side of the customer-business relationship is empowered with the tools of information management. midata seeks to redress that balance.

“This is the way the world is going and the UK is currently leading the charge. We see a real opportunity here, but others, including the US and EU, are also showing real interest in the programme and the economic benefits it can deliver. So if we want to continue leading the way, we need to develop a platform upon which the innovation and services that drive growth can be built. midata aims to do just that.

“I’m delighted that so many organisations are supporting our vision and I look forward to working with them closely as the programme progresses.”

The midata programme marks a non-regulatory approach to consumer empowerment and is in keeping with the Government’s broader focus on transparency and openness.

The next step will include setting time lines and developing online 'personal data inventories' (PDIs) in each sector, which will describe the types of data an organisation holds about each customer.

Protocols will also be established to handle any issues relating to privacy, data security and consumer protection.

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.

The PDI and access work will precede the release of data back to customers in an electronic format. The goal is to enable the first releases in the first half of 2012.

Notes to editors

1. Businesses and organisations that have so far committed to working in partnership with Government to achieve the midata vision are:

- Avoco Secure
- billmonitor
- British Gas
- Callcredit
- EDF Energy
- E.ON
- Garlik
- Google
- Lloyds Banking Group
- MasterCard
- Moneysupermarket.com
- Mydex
- npower
- Scottish Power
- Scottish Southern Energy
- The UK Cards Association
- Three
- Visa

2. The following consumer groups and regulators are working with midata to represent consumers' interests and concerns. As well as working towards potential benefits, their input plays an important role in identifying potential risks and helping determine how these can be addressed:

- Citizens Advice
- Communications Consumer Panel
- Consumer Focus
- Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)
- Office of Fair Trading (OFT)
- Which?

3. The Government set out its plans for midata in the consumer empowerment strategy Better Choices: Better Deals, published in April 2011: http://www.bis.gov.uk/policies/consumer-issues/consumer-empowerment

4. At the recent energy summit (17 October), energy companies agreed to participate in work to enhance the switching process, with a next generation online method of enabling customers to check and change to the best deal for them.

5. BIS's online newsroom contains the latest press notices, speeches, as well as video and images for download. It also features an up to date list of BIS press office contacts. See http://www.bis.gov.uk/newsroom for more information.

The Government’s vision for midata

Consumer Data Empowerment

midata is a voluntary partnership between the UK Government, businesses, consumer groups, regulators and trade bodies to create an agreed, common approach to empowering individuals with their personal data.

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.

midata is part of the Government’s growth agenda. It 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.

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.

The aim of the midata project is for organisations that collect, store and use customer data to endorse and work towards the following goals and principles.

Organisations collecting, using and holding customer data should:

· maintain and make available to customers accurate and up-to-date descriptions of the types of personal data they hold about these customers. (Consumer Data Transparency)

· develop, support and promote ways to release customers’ data back to them in a safe, privacy-friendly, portable and re-usable manner. This data should be made available to them online for free and to use as they see fit. (Consumer Data Access)

· minimise risks of data breaches and invasions of privacy. This includes a) working to ensure that all personal information is accessed and released safely and securely; b) helping to create a personal data environment that enables individuals to hold, use and share their data in ways they understand and can trust, which protects their interests and empowers them to use their data for their own purposes. (Consumer Data Security)

· work with other organisations via the midata project to encourage the innovation of new consumer information services that deliver midata goals. (Consumer Data Innovation)

Consumer Data principles

The following principles will guide the project:

1. Data that is released to customers will be in reusable, machine-readable form in an open standard format.

2. Consumers should be able to access, retrieve and store their data securely.

3. Consumers should be able to analyse, manipulate, integrate and share their data as they see fit - including participating in collaborative or group purchasing.

4. Standardisation of terminology, format and data sharing processes will be pursued as far as possible across sectors.

5. Once requested, data will be made available to customers as quickly as possible.

6. The focus will be to provide information or data that that may be actionable and useful in making a decision or in the course of a specific activity.

7. Organisations should not place any restrictions on or otherwise hinder the retention or reuse of data.

8. Organisations will work to increase awareness amongst consumers of the opportunities and responsibilities that arise from consumer data empowerment.

9. Organisations will provide customers with clear explanations of how the data was collected and what it represents, and who to consult if problems arise.