Ms Swinson can plead ignorance. Which? can't.
Writing successful publicity material is hard. Quite beyond DMossesq. And, it seems, Jo Swinson, minister of state at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). Here she is, trying to write with unfeigned enthusiasm about midata:
That gem appears on the blog run by Which? magazine and you can see why the consumer champion Which? wants a disclaimer at the bottom of Ms Swinson's post:
Recently I was chatting to the owner of an independent bookshop, who told me animatedly about his Christmas recommendations. In particular which ones I might enjoy most given what other books I had recently read and loved.
How great, I thought, to have that personal, tailored advice, and wouldn’t it be great if I could get that everywhere else?
The benefits of midata that Ms Swinson manages to name are all available already without midata and have been for decades – BIS's initiative is otiose. The other benefits are vague, unnamed and hypothetical – unreliable, in other words, dubious marketing.
Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Jo Swinson MP. All opinions expressed here are Jo’s own, not necessarily those of Which?
And Ms Swinson fails to warn her readers how these mysterious benefits will be earned. By storing all our personal data on the web with a third party we have no reason to trust. She doesn't tell us that. Standard behaviour for a politician, perhaps, but well below the standards for openness expected of Which?.
Is a disclaimer enough, though? The headline on the post is under Which?'s control and reads What if companies gave me control of my data?. midata offers consumers no control over their data that we don't already have. Its advocates keep promising control. But they can never answer the question how midata will confer additional control. It won't. Because it can't.
But Which? are in deeper than a misleading headline. BIS's 3 November 2011 press release lists the organisations which support midata, including Which?. It will take more than a disclaimer to undo the reputational damage that will follow when consumers discover how midata works. Ms Swinson can plead ignorance. Which? can't.
I asked Jo outright about midata and was ignored... speaks volumes
It does indeed speak volumes.
And it's not just the politicians.
We don't really expect them to know what they're talking about. We do expect their officials to know what they're talking about, though.
And yet at the open forum to discuss midata Kirstin Green, a Director at BIS specialising in consumer empowerment, promised useful apps but then couldn't name any. And David Miller, the BIS economist, asked about the economic benefits promised for midata, said there was just no telling.
Apparently, if you asked an ant why it does what it does, it couldn't tell you. Its actions seem nevertheless to be co-ordinated, more or less mysteriously, with the rest of the nest. Whitehall as ants nest?
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