Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Identity providers – the electronic Mary Poppinses

At last, everyone will have their own nanny ...
... with absolutely no interference from the state

To no fanfare at all, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) today named in a press release seven of the eight organisations selected to be the UK's first "identity providers".

The eighth organisation is presumably having second thoughts. As well they might.

The seven named winners are the Post Office, Cassidian, Digidentity, Experian, Ingeus, Mydex and Verizon.

This is all to do with identity assurance, without which nothing in the digital-by-default universe works.

Your identity will be provided henceforth by Digidentity (a Dutch PKI company – public key infrastructure), Ingeus (dedicated to getting the unemployed into work), Verizon (a US mobile phone network with no known presence in the UK), the Post Office, and/or three organisations you may dimly recall having heard of.

How did DWP come up with that list?

They didn't.

GDS are in charge, as they rarely fail to mention. It's GDS who will have made this peculiar selection, the Government Digital Service, they're six weeks late announcing it, we were supposed to know by 30 September 2012, and they're obviously still having trouble with No.8.

We were promised an "ecosystem" of private sector suppliers. The Post Office is not a private sector supplier. Cassidian and Experian earn a material portion of their income from UK government public sector contracts, and Mydex is funded to some extent by Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Cabinet Office grants, while its chairman sits on the BIS strategy board for midata.

What should you expect?

An organisation whom you have barely heard of and/or who doesn't know you from Adam will seek to register you. They will enrol you onto a database, asking for all sorts of footling documentation to prove that you are who you say you are and asking a lot of impertinent questions, from which they will create your "personal data store" (PDS). Then, if you apply for Universal Credit (UC), DWP may pay it to you, but only if the identity provider's computers assure DWP's computers that you are you. You have the choice – sign up with one of these identity providers or go without UC.

And for the rest of us?

Mydex think this is a big day. A "global milestone" they call it in The DWP ID assurance decision and the new personal data ecosystem, where Mydex insist on repeating their claims that they can grant everyone total control over their personal data and that midata will save money, a claim which BIS cannot defend.

What Mydex foresee is a day when your personal data store, your PDS, will advise you ... what to watch on television and ... whether to go out to dinner and ... what job to apply for and ... what to wear on holiday. At last, everyone will have their own nanny. Don't be surprised if Nanny also advises you to take out a phone contract with Verizon. Or reminds you to vote in next week's municipal elections in the Hague (Digidentity are Dutch, remember).

Don't believe it?

Take a look at this BIS press release, A midata future: 10 ways it could shape your choices:
midata is about giving the public more control and access to their personal data. There are potentially endless possibilities.
This allows not just consumers, but all users, to unlock sources of information in order to make the best choices for themselves, individually and collectively.
People could benefit from a range of applications made possible by accessing and sharing digital data about themselves held by businesses
Here are 10 ways in which ‘midata’ could be used in future to help change how we manage our lives, carry out day to day tasks and make decisions.

1. Returns, receipts and repairs

Stack of receipts ©iStockphoto.com/ Kitty Ellis
midata could help you manage your returns and warranties. It could be used by companies to provide electronic receipts of purchases to customers, who can download and store them at home. Instead of losing receipts and forgetting when guarantees expire, customers can use a ‘contracts and warranties dashboard’ to keep track of their purchases.
Retailers would save money by getting rid of paper receipts, and call centre costs would reduce as customers have a lot more information. You could manage renewals, returns, repairs, enquiries and upgrades all through a database, and new services could be developed to automatically offer price comparisons when product renewal dates are coming up.

2. Getting a new job

Jobs advert
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.

3. Finance

Calculator on financial newspaper ©iStockphoto/ Pali Rao
midata could help you manage your money in an easier and time efficient way. Service providers can develop and offer services which offer a full picture of accounts and information, instead of having to view and analyse spending from various different financial service providers. You could view your spending, analyse spend by chosen categories, compare offers and set budgets. This would create a foundation for a wide range of added-value money management, analysis and advice services.

4. Shopping

Shopping trolley filled with goods  © iStockphoto.com/ Don Bayley
midata could lead to services which combine your shopping history, and crunch this data into a range of services which improves your purchasing patterns. You could for example see how much money you’re spending on certain items, brands or companies, as well as any trends in your spending.
Take clothing: an individual could receive tailored fashion advice based on their style and purchases. How about your latest summer holiday outfit? A database could offer more specific price comparisons to show you how money could be saved based on the style and products you might usually go for, and send alerts for upcoming sales.

5. Keeping up with the Joneses

Man with paperwork
There are benefits in comparing with other people’s spending: midata could help those who want to change particular habits or make a purchase. For example, a couple may want to save money and energy, but are unsure if their current energy bills or usage are the norm. They are hearing varying opinions from friends and websites, but really want to know the energy consumption of people in a similar situation to them.
midata could use their energy consumption and supplier details, as well as the size of their home and family. It could then match their data to that of others in similar situations, and draw comparisons to show whether loft insulation or solar panels have benefitted others. Such programmes will be able to gain insights into customer priorities and offer trustworthy personalised advice in a way that has not been done before. 

6. Better billing

Electric bill © iStockphoto.com Nick M. Do
midata can help users sift through mobile phone tariffs and other utilities quickly and easily with the use of ‘specification building’. Instead of sifting through one tariff after another, users can build a specification of exactly what they want and publish it to the marketplace, leaving it to businesses to make offers that suit them. Alternatively they can filter existing products against their specifications, a process that can be automated.
Specification building will provide suppliers with a direct insight into exactly what customers are looking for and immediate contact with the right customer. This eliminates a huge amount of time and money from the marketing process. Such data has the potential to kick-start a major marketplace innovation, driven by customers openly telling suppliers “this is what I want, can you help me?” 

7. Health

Blue face paint, close-up portrait of young woman © iStockphoto.com/ BAYRAM TUNÇ
For individuals who need to take a closer look at their lifestyle, for health or personal reasons, midata can help them manage their medication and food intake. midata service providers could take details of medication timings and doses of diabetes sufferers for example. By using such programmes an individual could record their blood sugar levels, physical activity, food intake and day-to-day health issues.
That data could be presented to an individual’s doctor or dietician, who will be able to personalise their advice and prescriptions much better. An individual could see where their food intake patterns may be affecting them, and tackling any issues reduce the risks of complications and emergencies. 

8. Entertainment

people in a cinema © iStockphoto/ Denis Raev
midata could lead to service providers giving a much better range and value offer to entertainment customers. If you regularly purchase things like films, music, and theatre tickets you could use this data to be kept ‘in the know’ about the latest entertainment news.
‘midata’ programmes could use purchase info to provide a tailored service which tells customers when their favourite music artists are releasing an album or are on tour, for example, and lead them directly to the ticket providers. Individuals could expand their taste to try suggestions of films and theatre based on previous purchases, leading to an increase in sales of certain sectors.

9. Healthy eating

shopper reading label on food item ©iStockphoto/ Daniel Laflor
midata could help you take advantage of your grocery purchase data and help manage your diet. Service providers could develop tools which look at not only how shoppers could save money between retailers, but also what they tend to buy as comfort food.
Data could be amalgamated to show that a user tends to buy a lot of sweet foods or expensive brands around ‘pay day’, and provide a deeper insight into the added effect of ‘impulse buys’. This could go further to show where certain foods are increasing a user’s blood sugar or cholesterol, and indicate which alternatives could improve their health but satisfy their cravings. This could lead to a reduction in food-related health complications such as diabetes and obesity, and save money not only for the user but for national health services.

10. Going out

Couple drinking glasses of wine © iStockphoto.com/ g_studio
midata service providers could use an individuals purchase data to look at which restaurants and bars that user like. Taking this data, they could offer you a unique service, alerting you to new or recommended restaurants that suit your taste and location.
So where your favourite restaurant has deals or offers, you could be alerted in advance to take advantage and make a booking. Combined with other services, the programme could also indicate where you could save money or improve your health by eating elsewhere, drinking less or going out less.
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Updated 5 February 2014:

It was August 2012 when A midata future: 10 ways it could shape your choices was published. Here we are, 18 months later.

In between, the midata Innovation Lab was established and produced five sample prototype apps that were meant to demonstrate the value and attraction of midata.

One of those apps, MI Finances is meant to help you manage your ... finances:


In case you can't read the four nuggets of advice, they say:
  • Save £70 a month by buying your own ingredients and cooking yourself. Your health may improve too!
  • Do your grocery shopping online and save £14 per month on fuel
  • You're having an average of 4 takeaways a month. Why not make it a special treat? Cut down to once a month and save £100
  • You're not using your overdraft facility but you're using an expensive credit card. Save £45 a month in interest and cut up that card!
Nanny is on fine form.

Updated 11.10.14

One of the five prototype apps designed to demonstrate the virtues of midata is MI Relative Calm. It's a fine example of what happens when the "quantified self" that Ctrl-Shift and Mydex embrace meets a human being – the human being loses. That may be the answer to William Heath's scandalised question yesterday. Mr Heath is the chairman of Mydex:


It's nearly two years since the post above was published. It is still unclear how Mydex can grant control over the way your personal data is used. And it is still the case that the public has yet to see identity assurance in action. Trust in its existence is beginning to wane.



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