Topic: Consumer protection
Who: HM Government
When: 25 April 2013
Law stated as at: 2 May 2013
It all started in April 2011, when the Coalition Government launched its consumer empowerment strategy “Better Choices, Better Deals, Consumers Powering Growth.”
At the heart of this was a belief that in the digital age, individuals should be able to benefit from their own data.
This could also kick start a whole new ecosystem in which businesses provided individuals with the means to unlock the value in their data.
Take a mobile phone subscriber, for example. He could ask his provider to disgorge all his service use data, including location data, in a portable, digital format.
B2C data analysis services?
The subscriber would then appoint specialist telecoms data scientists to analyse this data and make recommendations.
These would not be restricted to an alternative mobile service provider, but extend also to other products and services such as the mobile device(s) that would best meet the subscriber’s needs and the apps from which, based on the lifestyle indicated by the user data, the subscriber could derive most value.
So this was the brave new, consumer-empowered world of data envisioned by the Coalition’s “Midata” programme.
Voluntary scheme sputters
To begin with, it was voluntary. In 2012, 19 major brands signed up to the scheme. The signatories pledged that their customers would be offered greater access to their service use data in portable, electronic form.
But by late 2012, the Government was losing patience. The World Economic Forum had taken up the cause in its report “Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust” but the UK was still in the slow lane.
Something had to be done, and at the end of April, 2013, it was, with the passing of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013.
Tucked away at sections 85-87 were provisions that gave Midata legal backbone.
The Secretary of State is given power to introduce regulations which could be introduced as early as Autumn 2013, says BIS, unless service providers buck up their ideas and the progress of the voluntary scheme accelerates significantly.
Gas, electricity, mobile telecoms, credit card and current account providers targeted
First in the firing line are gas and electricity suppliers, mobile phone service providers and current account and credit card facility suppliers.
On a customer’s request, they must hand over that individual’s “customer data.” This is defined as information which is (1) held in electronic form by or on behalf of the supplier and (2) relates to transactions between customer and provider, in other words consumption data.
It may be possible for providers to charge for the hand over but this must not be more than the cost of complying with the request.
New powers of “entry, search, inspection and seizure”?
The chief enforcer will be data watchdog ICO, potentially with the help of “powers of entry, search, inspection and seizure.”
The regulations could cast the net wider than the five sectors named or others could be drawn in by subsequent amendments.
Why this matters:
The message is clear: new regulations or not, Midata is here to stay and the heavy hand of the law will intervene unless affected service providers, particularly those in the sectors already called out in s. 85 (2), are seen by Government to be moving Midata from a well-kept secret to a living, breathing reality within a few short months.
So Midata is here to stay, but will consumers be interested in exercising these new powers over their own data and drive a new breed of B2C data analysis service providers? Time will tell, but either way, affected businesses should be acting now to determine their Midata strategy and action plan if they have not done so already.