Monday, 3 September 2012

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 8


BIS's midata initiative raises two questions for you.

Would you trust a complete stranger to store all your personal data?
And would you trust a lot of other complete strangers
(BIS's currently non-existent applications developers)
to process that data?

You might. If you're mad.

--- o O o ---

Coverage in the media of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills's lonely midata initiative remains scant.

The BBC reported on 22 August 2012, in 'Midata project plan for compulsory customer data', that ...
Consumer Minister Norman Lamb said: "It's clear to me that giving consumers the right to access their own transaction data promises huge opportunities for both consumers themselves and UK businesses."
... without pausing to ask how it's clear to Norman Lamb when it isn't clear to anyone else.

On 23 August 2012 ComputerWorldUK published 'Government threatens legal action against midata laggards'. Clearly the days of midata being a friendly voluntary initiative are long gone.

Retail Gazette carried an odd article on 30 August 2012, 'Why are retailers so afraid of Midata?' – odd, because there's no evidence that retailers are afraid of midata. Why would they be?

And then there's this week's Economist, 'Shameless self-promotion – Britain wants to lead the world in exploiting consumer data':
Britain is already “streets ahead” of most countries in liberating consumer data, says Liz Brandt of Ctrl-Shift, a marketing consultancy ...
Ctrl-Shift? Ring a bell? It should, please see 'The case for midata – the answer is a mooncalf'. Someone has posted a comment on the Economist website advising the magazine and its readers who Ctrl-Shift are:
The point of quoting Ctrl-Shift here is presumably to introduce an element of independent objectivity.

Ctrl-Shift Ltd was incorporated on 26 January 2009, according to Companies House. Alan Mitchell was appointed a Director on 13 May 2009 and William Heath on 16 July 2010. Mr Heath's appointment was terminated on 10 May 2012.

Mydex Ltd was incorporated on 18 February 2008 according to Companies House. Alan Mitchell is Head of Strategy and William Heath is Chairman, according to the Mydex website.

In their report The new personal data landscape Ctrl-Shift discuss the Personal Data Stores (PDSs) that would be needed for midata and recommend the PDS supplier Mydex.

In their 3 November 2011 press release about midata, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) list the 19 commercial organisations that have agreed to collaborate with them on midata. The list includes Mydex.

At the 9 August 2012 open forum on midata held by BIS, Kirstin Green, a Deputy Director at BIS, said that William Heath (ex of Ctrl-Shift and still Chairman of Mydex) is on the BIS Strategy Board for midata.

In this case, no element of independence has been introduced. The Economist find themselves effectively quoting midata saying that midata is a Good Thing.
The fact that William Heath is on the midata strategy board is news but nothing else is, not for long-time DMossEsq readers.

In their 3 November 2011 press release, BIS listed 19 commercial organisations who had signed up to midata. No-one else has signed up since to this lonely initiative, even after the government threats of legal action reported by ComputerWorldUK.

Among those 19 was Mydex, Mr Heath's company, the company promoted by Ctrl-Shift, Mr Heath's ex-company, which is a paid consultant to BIS.

What readers may not know is that the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) have invested in a number of companies including Mydex, please see p.24 of their document, 'Ensuring trust in digital services'. Pump-priming, fine, funding R&D, government "picking winners", no problem with that.

The TSB organised an exhibition of the products of these R&D companies on 31 October 2011, just a few days before the BIS press release. The event is reported by ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken on the Cabinet Office's Government Digital Service blog, 'Establishing trust in digital services'. We attendees were treated at the same time to a number of talks given by GDS, including a talk by Francis Maude himself.

The subject of these talks was identity assurance or "IdA", as the Cabinet Office call it.

HMRC want to make all their services available on-line and preferably only on-line, said Joan Wood, Director, Online Service & Digital Development at HMRC. DWP want to make the Universal Credit system on-line only, said Steve Dover, DWP Corporate Director Universal Credit Business and IT Solutions.

But how can HMRC and DWP achieve that if they don't know who they're dealing with at the other end of the line? Where does the IdA come from? The same question could be asked of midata. And the same answer could be given – what IdA needs is for everyone in the UK to have a "Personal Data Inventory" (the BIS name for it) or "Personal Data Store" (everyone else's name for it).

Putting all public services on-line is the old Tony Blair/Cabinet Office/Gus O'Donnell/Ian Watmore Transformational Government/joined-up government plan. That plan collapsed years ago, partly because it depended on ID cards and the Home Office's misbegotten ID card scheme failed.

The Cabinet Office are trying to breathe new life into Transformational Government through the G-Cloud and GDS initiatives much discussed on DMossEsq and, it seems, through midata. We may not have ID cards but the idea is that we should have PDIs/PDSs instead, please see para.2.19, p.24 of BIS's midata 2012 review and consultation:
A ‘Personal Data Inventory’ has been proposed, with the aim of giving consumers clear information about the types of data which organisations hold about them. This work is still in development by the midata programme participants, but broadly the proposal is that to gain access to their Personal Data Inventory, the customer would have to log-in to a secure website where the Personal Data Inventory would contain a simple explanation of each category of data and if, and how, the data can be accessed by the consumer. The Personal Data Inventory is likely to contain data such as address and contact details, existing tariffs/contracts, payment methods, items purchased, when, value, amount spent per year, usage data.
The midata question was posed by Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC, "why is the government getting involved?". Professor Shadbolt couldn't answer it. Not even Norman Lamb MP can answer it. Not so far. But do we perhaps see an answer now – midata is the ID cards scheme resurrected? That might explain why BIS want to take powers to implement a scheme whose stated benefits are some of them footling and others no more than wishful thinking, neither of which provides a sound basis on which to invest public money.

Take a look at BIS's 'A midata future: 10 ways it could shape your choices', particularly at example #2, Getting a new job:
midata' could allow individuals to have access to information held about them by various organisations. When getting a new job, an individual could use verification programmes to send necessary proofs to a new employer. For example, instead of making copies and going to the post office, a new employee could get their driving licence, educational qualifications, CRB check and personal identity all by ticking a set of boxes and clicking 'send'.

This would save money for employers who won't have to deal with lengthy and expensive hiring processes.
"Establishing trust in digital services" is the Cabinet Office's apt name for the problem. And midata is not the solution.

Would you trust a complete stranger (Mydex, or whoever) to store all your personal data?

And would you trust a lot of other complete strangers (BIS's currently non-existent applications developers) to process that data?

You might. If you're mad. The rest of us will "make copies and go to the post office" and any sensible employer will retain his or her "expensive hiring processes" – otherwise they won't have a clue who they've just hired.

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