Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Ed Davey, problem-solver – midata

In 1621, King James I directed the Privy Council to establish a temporary committee to investigate the causes of a decline in trade and consequent financial difficulties. The Board's formal title remains The Lords of the Committee of Privy Council appointed for the consideration of all matters relating to Trade and Foreign Plantations.
That's what it says on Wikipedia, under Board of Trade.

400 years later and not a foreign plantation in sight, this temporary committee is thriving and we still have a President of the Board of Trade – Vince Cable, Secretary of State at BIS, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

What with him ruling by divine right (James, not Vince), it's unlikely that James would have seen the need for a team of no less than five ministers of state, but that's what Vince has got, plus Ed Davey, Lib Dem MP for Kingston and Surbiton, minister for employment relations, consumer and postal affairs.

And thank goodness for Ed Davey with his PPE from Oxford and his masters in economics from the LSE because, 400 years later, here we are again with a decline in trade and consequent financial difficulties. But not for long. Mr Davey has the answer.

What's stopping the economy from growing? Businesses can't sell enough goods and services. Why can't they sell enough goods and services? Because they don't know which consumers want which goods and services. It's the consumers' fault*. Who's in charge of consumers? Ed Davey.

The right man for the job, Mr Davey proposes that consumers should collect together all their transactional history and circulate it to businesses, who can process the data and work out exactly what to sell us. Job done, economy starts growing again and never stops. Why didn't you think of that?

That's the economics sorted out. But Mr Davey is a politician as well. He needs to sort out the politics. A small but loud-mouthed minority of the generally grateful population gets a bit tetchy about protecting its privacy and guarding its dignity. What to do?

Master of more than just economics, Mr Davey comes up with a name for his scheme, "midata". My data – see what he's done, there? The security and comfort of exclusive possession all wrapped up in a friendly name, you will note, with no capital letters in it. And he's come up with two USPs. People will be "empowered" by midata because they will take "control" of their data.

That's why the BIS press release, Government, business and consumer groups commit to midata vision of consumer empowerment, uses the word "empower" and its cognates no less than 13 times. Poor old "control" only makes one appearance, but it's a starring one:
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.
Who would be empowered for the first time globally by midata? Surely the businesses using it to target customers. Who would be in so much control of the data? Surely the businesses who are processing it.

Is it possible that Mr Davey has perhaps got the empowerment and control wrongly ascribed? That is the question posed by a number of contributors to his blog. Four of us. There can be only one interpretation of the silence with which Mr Davey has greeted these impertinent enquiries – diplomat to his fingertips that he is, he doesn't want to embarrass us.

Diplomacy is one thing, but don't mistake it for weakness. Mr Davey is a determined man and midata will not be derailed:
Government slams operators for failing to sign up to Midata hub
Government officials have slammed mobile operators for not signing up to its data hub project Midata ...

Consumer affairs minister Edward Davey had wanted all the operators to sign up to the voluntary scheme to ‘further assist consumers in getting the best deal on their mobile phone contract’ ...

One senior aide at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: ‘Instead of supporting the Government’s vision of endorsing the key principle that data should be released back to consumers, all of the UK’s main operators have shunned the proposals and are delaying signing up. It’s great we have Three on board, but the fact is we need all of the firms involved to really be credible ...

... the BIS aide added: ‘Consumers should be able to access, retrieve and store their data securely and mobile operators should not think themselves immune from this.’
"Voluntary", you see, another Ed Davey-inspired USP, as heralded in the press release:
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.
But it's "voluntary" in a sense that only ministers and Whitehall officials understand the word. No-one else, on turning down the opportunity to join an organisation voluntarily, would expect to be "slammed" for it.

How long before the woolly mitten comes off revealing the petulant fist inside, and we read:
Government slams consumers for failing to sign up to Midata hub
Government officials have slammed a small group of recalcitrant and mentally unstable subversives for not signing up to its data hub project Midata ...

Consumer affairs minister Edward Davey had wanted all patriotic citizens to sign up to the voluntary scheme to ‘further assist the economy’ ...

One senior aide at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: ‘Instead of supporting the Government’s vision of endorsing the key principle that personal data should be available to us, a few unwise souls have shunned the proposals and are delaying signing up. It’s great we have Stephen Fry on board, but the fact is we need everyone in the UK to really be credible ...

... the BIS aide added: ‘The government should be able to access, retrieve and store personal data securely and consumers should not think themselves immune from this.’
You think you're "immune"? Why?

King James, your Majesty, your gracious bequest glows still in the hearts of these, your humble subjects.

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* This seems to be something of a Lib Dem tic. Remember that, according to Chris Huhne, it's our own fault, we consumers, that we pay so much for energy.

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