Monday 19 May 2014

RIP IDA – mooncalf economics

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but, just in case it isn't obvious to all, IDA is dead.

IDA is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme. And it's dead.


3 December 2011
It's two-and-a-half years since we first looked at Ctrl-Shift Ltd, the consultancy firm.

They had recently published a report, The new personal data landscape. Their claim was that national economic growth will be achieved if only we all of us make it easier for companies to know all about us. If we would just release all of our personal data, then "Ctrl-Shift’s research finds that the market for these new streams of information could grow to be worth £20bn in the UK over the next ten years" (p.14).

No evidence supporting this economic hypothesis was advanced in Ctrl-Shift's report:
  • We were told that it was something to do with midata: "Ctrl-Shift are working as advisors to the Department of Business as members of the ‘midata’ Project Board" (p.2) ...
  • ... and something to do with personal data stores: "The last year has seen a flurry of activity around the concept of personal data stores ... that help individuals collect and keep their own data safe, manage, analyse and use this data, and control how it is shared with other parties. Launches include Mydex and Paoga in the UK, Personal and Singly in the US, and Qiy in Holland ..." (p.15).
  • We were not told that Ctrl-Shift and Mydex are closely connected companies and that Mydex's chairman sat on the midata strategy board at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). Far from being independent research, Ctrl-Shift's report was more like a sales document for Mydex's services and a fig-leaf for BIS policy.
Who would be convinced by midata? "The answer is a mooncalf", we said in December 2011, not least because of this passage in the Ctrl-Shift report (p.14):
Access to such data represents a ‘holy grail’ data to companies because it explains why people do what they do and predicts what they are going to do next.
Predicting the future accurately doesn't work in the world of horse-racing, despite the reams of data available on "form". Nor does it work in the world of equity investment.

If Ctrl-Shift had found a way of predicting the future, an investment bank would have bought them by now and cashed in. Ctrl-Shift haven't been bought, which leaves them in the same position as every other astrologer who ever promised the local potentate that he or she could predict and maybe even shape the future.

9 June 2014
"Groundbreaking research on the personal information economy", it says on Ctrl-Shift News:
New research by Ctrl-Shift (to be published on 9 June 2014) will look at the business and economic impact of Personal Information Management Services (PIMS) – personalised services that help individuals collect and their own data for their own purposes including making better decisions and managing life tasks and processes such as ‘move home’ or ‘manage my money’.
They're back.

"It is the first research of its kind to quantify the economic impact of this emerging market", they tell us, again, two-and-a-half years after the last first time.

They've dropped midata. This time round, Ctrl-Shift are focusing on "identity assurance":
Identity assurance is a springboard for innovation and an essential service for a successful online economy. It is a door opener ...
No mention in that news item of the fact that Mydex, the personal data store provider, has also been appointed one of the UK's "identity providers" – BIS/Vince Cable's loss is the Cabinet Office/Francis Maude's gain.

What is the future that Mr Maude promises?

Answer, a world in which all services have become digital by default and in which all transactions depend on Mydex. No Mydex, no transactions:

Is the magic working better now?

Seemingly not.

Next day, 10 June 2014, sees the start of individual electoral registration (IER) in England and Wales. Will IER be supported by identity assurance? No. The Cabinet Office's Government Digital Service can't get it working.

(And they couldn't get it working in March 2013 for Universal Credit at DWP, the Department for Work and Pensions.)

(And they couldn't get it working in October 2013 for PAYE Online at HMRC, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.)

And a week later, 16 June 2014, sees the sentencing in the US of the fraudster Hieu Minh Ngo. The judge is expected to have a few words to say about the ease with which Mr Ngo acquired personal data from Experian. Experian is another UK "identity provider", like Mydex. The trust, which all parties agree is needed for identity assurance to work, has already bolted.

It's nearly four years since the identity assurance project was launched, 20 September 2010. There's still nothing to show for it. The warnings are there – anyone prepared to invest in it now must be possessed of a confidence which is itself miraculous.


Updated 2 June 2014

The tension mounts – mooncalf economics, your opportunity to invest, only one week to go, Monday 9 June 2014, as Ctrl-Shift remind us in a Tweet:

DMossEsq isn't licensed to give investment advice. Are Ctrl-Shift?

Next day, Tuesday 10 June 2014, sees individual electoral registration go live. Without GDS's promised identity assurance (RIP). And with no sign of life from midata either, except in the Telegraph, where they can't even spell it.

And then a week later, 16 June 2014, it's all eyes on New Hampshire and the sentencing of Hieu Minh Ngo. What will the judge have to say about GDS's "identity provider" Experian and the security of the data broker/personal information economy? How safe are we, we mooncalves, as the ground breaks up under Ctrl-Shift's research?

Updated 23.6.14

You will remember that there used to be something called the midata Innovation Lab. What we learnt from the midata Innovation Lab was published on 28 November 2013, seven months ago. Since then, mercifully, there has been a dignified silence. The silence of the grave.

Now the zombie stirs again for one last time.

New energy data sharing systems to be developed, a press release told us the other day. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) herded a lot of energy organisations together and pretended that there's life in the old dog yet – midata will help smart meters by making it easier for you to give your data away to even more organisations:
Automated access to these data files by customers or third parties with consumers’ permission, is the next logical step. It will be an important stepping stone to more engagement for consumers through smart meters, which will give them direct access to their consumption data which they can then share directly with trusted third parties.
It is fitting that the Minister at BIS who brought midata mewling and puking into the world in November 2011 is now the Secretary of State at DECC, where he can preside over its final, energy-efficient interment.

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