Monday, 10 September 2012

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 12 and last

Today is the deadline for submitting responses to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) consultation on midata. That doesn't make it an important day. BIS will not be dissuaded by any adverse comment in the responses. But for what it's worth:

midata 2012 review and Consultation - response form

Consultation on legislating to give consumers access to data in an electronic, machine readable form

For your ease, you can reply to this consultation online at:
Alternatively you can email, post or fax this completed response form to:


Postal address

Craig Belsham,
Head of Consumer Empowerment,
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills,
1 Victoria Street,


020 7217 2234
A copy of this consultation can be found at:
The Department may, in accordance with the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, make available, on public request, individual responses.
The closing date for this consultation is 10 September 2012.

Your details
Name: David Moss
Organisation (if applicable): Not applicable
Address: xxxxxxxxxx
Telephone:    xxxxxxxxxx
Fax:    xxxxxxxxxx        
Please tick a box below that best describes you as a respondent to this consultation:

Business representative organisation/trade body

Central government

Charity or social enterprise

Large business (over 250 staff)

Legal representative

Local Government

Medium business (50 to 250 staff)

Micro business (up to 9 staff)

Small business (10 to 49 staff)

Trade union or staff association

Other (please describe)

Question 1: Do you agree with the principles of midata?
Have you any comments on the proposed approach?

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) say that midata would force suppliers to make transaction data available to consumers. They already make that data available and have done for decades. midata is unnecessary.

BIS say that midata will make the economy grow. They give no reason to believe that and provide no figures. What is the target? How would BIS know if midata had succeeded?

They say that midata would empower consumers. The examples of empowerment given concern switching between mobile phone suppliers and between energy suppliers. There are already applications which support this switching and BIS themselves describe the energy companies as already blazing the trail. Again, midata is unnecessary.

Even its promoters have trouble explaining what midata is for. Professor Shadbolt, chair of the midata programme, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours on 5 September 2012 and cheerfully announced that he couldn’t give examples of any other applications.

We already have Ofcom and Ofgem. Why do we need midata as well? Are BIS saying that Ofcom and Ofgem don’t do their job properly?

BIS still can’t answer the questions raised by Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC on 3 November 2011: “what's the catch for consumers and why is the government getting involved?”.

Which may in turn explain the lack of take-up by suppliers, not a single new adherent having been announced since BIS’s 3 November 2011 press release.

Which leaves this respondent to the consultation wondering why BIS want midata, and want it so much that they have switched from midata being a voluntary scheme to proposing to make it compulsory.

And wondering what the rôle of the Behavioural Insights Team is in midata – they’re meant to nudge, not legislate.

And wondering how BIS can describe this proposed additional regulation of UK business as having a deregulatory effect.

The practical effect of midata on the public would be to require us all to maintain a number of PDIs, personal data inventories, each recording sufficient data to identify us.

The PDIs would be maintained on the web, we are told, in the cloud, by trusted third parties – i.e. complete strangers – and they would be in permanent contact with all our suppliers, disseminating changes to our data automatically, without our being involved, to everyone who needs to know about the changes, and occasionally making recommendations to change our phone contract or energy contract.

It takes years to inspire trust and BIS provide no reason to trust these suppliers. They don’t even name them. If midata was a company, no reputable broker would sponsor it and no reputable stock exchange would list it.

The web is an inherently dangerous place to store personal data. BIS and the Cabinet Office, together with the Foreign Office/GCHQ, held an event on 5 September 2012 advising businesses to take effective precautions against cyber threats. At that event BIS promoted a set of GCHQ manuals, in which they give it as their opinion that most businesses have failed to implement cyber security properly.

ENISA, the EU’s information security arm, advise that no valuable data should be entrusted to the cloud and that cloud computing should only be embarked on with a clear exit strategy. The OECD also have their reservations about cloud computing: “cloud computing creates security problems in the form of loss of confidentiality if authentication is not robust and loss of service if internet connectivity is unavailable or the supplier is in financial difficulties”.

If BIS believe GCHQ, ENISA and the OECD, their simultaneous advice to consumers to entrust our personal data to cyberspace is inconsistent and irresponsible.

The Cabinet Office make the unlikely claim that cloud computing is the key to transforming government by making all public services digital by default and delivering them through the G-Cloud, the government cloud, and a number of public clouds, P-Clouds.

For that, they need identity assurance, they need to be able to identify the consumers of public services online. They need the equivalent of the Home Office’s failed National Identity Service. They need us all to have PDIs. That’s what the Cabinet Office say, even while simultaneously acknowledging how dangerous it is and warning people against it.

It’s all very well BIS telling us consumers that we are hopeless at making choices and that we need midata apps to improve our lives. But BIS and the Cabinet Office might do well, equally, to ask themselves how on earth they decided to adopt PDIs, against their own advice, ignoring GCHQ’s advice, ENISA’s and the OECD’s. Better decision-making begins at home, in this case at No.1 Victoria St London SW1.

BIS should drop the ill-thought out midata initiative forthwith, it would do nothing for the economy and it would not empower consumers. Instead, it would expose us all to the risks of identity theft. If the Cabinet Office want us all to have PDIs, let them argue their confused case themselves. There is no good reason for BIS to do the Cabinet Office’s dirty work for them.

Question 2: Do you have a view on whether particular sectors or types of business should or should not be covered?
The question doesn’t arise, midata should be abandoned.

Question 3: What is your view on the likely impact of the proposed approach on privacy, consent and information security and the implication for data protection

It would be disastrous. It courts all the dangers that BIS/the Cabinet Office/GCHQ/ENISA/the OECD warn against.

Question 4: What is your view on who should have the right to request data?
Consumers should and already do have the right to request data, midata is unnecessary.

Question 5: Some consumers already shop around, though may not always switch to the best deal for them. What additional proportion of consumers is likely to become empowered by this data?

Question 6: What types of new services might be offered by intermediaries (such as, price comparison websites) and what could be the value of this new market?
The question doesn’t arise, midata should be abandoned.

Question 7: Should a consumer be able to require the business to supply the data in electronic format directly to a specified third party?
It is irresponsible of BIS to incite people to hand over control of our personal data to third parties.

Question 8: Should a third party who is duly authorised by the consumer be able to seek the consumer’s data in electronic format directly from the supplier?
The consumer is being cut out of his own life in the midata scenario BIS suggest. A number of computers would be exchanging reams of information about the consumer without him or her being involved. Anybody naïve enough to embrace this potty vision of the future should be protected from themselves and not exploited by BIS.

Question 9: What, if any, requirements should be placed on the secondary users of such data, albeit under the direction of consumers e.g. switching and advice sites?
The question doesn’t arise, midata should be abandoned.

Question 10: The Government is minded to require businesses to give their customers access to transaction and consumption data, in order to help them better understand their behaviour.

a)         What types of data would be most helpful? Customers already have access to their transaction data, the question is wrong-headed.

b)         Over what period should the data refer to? That is a matter for the market to decide. It already has decided. Where the period is too short, wise suppliers will heed their customers’ requests to lengthen it.

Question 11: Should other types of information, such as warranties or terms and conditions, be included?  
Comments: The question doesn’t arise, midata should be abandoned.

Question 12: Should the Government specify a particular electronic format beyond a machine readable open standard format in which the data has to be supplied?
Comments: The question doesn’t arise, midata should be abandoned.

Question 13: Should the Government specify a period within which data must be released electronically following a consumer’s request?
Comments: The question doesn’t arise, midata should be abandoned.
b) If so, what would be a reasonable period within which data must be released?

Question 14: Please provide information about cost:
- Where your business already collects the relevant data, please estimate:
a) Additional one- off costs of making the data available in an open standard format (such as, purchasing new IT, hiring IT staff) – not applicable.
b) Additional ongoing costs (such as of additional staff) – not applicable.
c) If not already stated, please state here the approximate number of customer accounts that these costs are estimated for. For example, number of UK accounts – not applicable.

Question 15: Should businesses be permitted to charge a consumer for providing them with the data in electronic format?
Comments: If midata were deployed, then yes, of course, but the question doesn’t arise, midata should be abandoned.

Question 16: Should any such charges be constrained by the legislation?
If so, do you have a view on how a maximum charge should be set or adjusted?
The question doesn’t arise, midata should be abandoned.

Question 17: Which body/bodies is/are best placed to perform the enforcement role for this right?
The question doesn’t arise, midata should be abandoned.

Question 18: Should the Government specify a lead enforcement body?
If yes, who:

Question 19: How should the right be enforced by any such body? Will they need any new powers to enable them to enforce it?
The questions don’t arise, midata should be abandoned.

Question 20:  What examples of existing regulatory actions could be reduced or removed if the power being consulted on was exercised?
The question doesn’t arise, midata should be abandoned.

Question 21: Should a consumer be able to launch independent action (and, if so, what sort of action) in relation to non-compliance with the duty?
Comments: the questions don’t arise, midata should be abandoned.

Question 22: Do you foresee any risks or undesirable consequences from exercising a power to require certain data to be released electronically?
Comments: please see answer to Questions 1 and 8.

© Crown copyright 2012
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