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What if companies gave me control of my data?

Eye with binary code

In this guest post, consumer affairs minister Jo Swinson explores the benefits of ‘midata’, which could give you more control over the personal data companies hold. What would you do with your data?

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?

In this weather it can feel like you’re always turning the heating up – but wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could tell whether the energy bill is rising because you’re actually using more energy rather than the prices going ever upwards? Or whether your mobile phone tariff and provider are the best value for money taking into account your preferences and usage?

Giving you access to your data

There should be a simple way to get your hands on this valuable information. After all, many savvy businesses already use these insights to tailor services to their customers or ultimately, sell more products.

The good news is that the Government has announced that companies in four key sectors could be required to give individuals greater access to the personal data they hold through a scheme called ‘midata’.

Midata will mean companies and organisations are obliged, on request, to provide the data they hold on your transactions in an easy-to-read and reusable electronic format. The four key sectors this will initially apply to are those where we spend a large amount of our hard-earned cash – energy, credit cards, current accounts and mobile phones.

So, what could midata mean for you?

Well, every time I shop or use my Advantage card I share details about myself. Midata will mean I can expect a two-way dialogue with businesses who will have to report back to me on my own spending. So, just like my bookshop, midata could allow companies to develop insightful services that get to know me and my preferences, making shopping a far more convenient process.

Personally, I’d like to use midata to help get better deals more simply. It would be great if I could obtain a list of all the purchases on my credit card this year. And then if an app or website could take that data and tell me where I’m shopping the most, how often, and where I might save some money. Perhaps it could tell me that I should start shopping elsewhere or even change my card provider.

But this isn’t just about price comparison sites; Finland’s leading grocer has worked with a third party to give their customers a breakdown of the nutritional content of their shopping basket.

I’m excited about the possibilities that have opened up through midata, and I’m looking forward to seeing what types of innovative services and applications developers offer. And I want to hear your views too – in a midata future, what would you do with your data?

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?.


I don’t want innovative services, thank you. We frequently hear tales of misuse of data as it is.

I am pestered by phone calls and mail from companies, even ones I have ceased to use because of poor service. Unless I turn on private browsing on my web browser I soon see targeted adverts based on my browsing history. I am not obsessed about this, but it all makes me feel uncomfortable. If I fill in any personal details I am careful to choose to opt out of any sharing of me information. I certainly don’t want to waste more time by having to check what information companies hold about me.

I feel that ALL NON-ESSENTIAL use of personal data should be OPT-IN and NEVER OPT-OUT.

Sorry for the capitals but this silly game of collecting and using information must be stopped.

Simon DJ says:
18 December 2012

Innovation is your friend here. Unsolicited marketing of the kind you describe is not only annoying but grossly inefficient. It could all be sorted out between computers, according to rules you set.


I have said that I don’t want innovative services and you are saying that innovation is my friend. One of the biggest problems I have is people will not take NO for an answer. 🙁

No thank you, I don’t need marketing, telephone sales, people on the doorstep, unsolicited mail/email or having information sorted for me. I can conduct efficient Web searches and even look up Yellow Pages. I can use price comparison sites. Humour me and let me carry on in what you undoubtedly regard as my own inefficient way, please.


I am quite capable of analysing my own spending, finding best-value deals, but more importantly I am the best person to know my preferences. So this is pointless as far as I am concerned. I don’t use a Tesco Clubcard because I don’t want a commercial organisation collecting information on what I do. Just because data can be collected and processed does not mean we want it to be used -surely there are more important things for the companies (and the minister) that do this to spend their time on – unless there is a way of making a profit from us, of course – surely not the motive!


@MalcolmR: So you always pay by cash then?

Simon DJ says:
18 December 2012

@MalcolmR: what about a service that uses your transaction data to keep you on the best energy/mobile/current account deal?


David, no


So you are still being profiled then!


David, that is not the point. It seems to me the point is whether we want to encourage further manipulation of data. I, personally, don’t.


By not using a Tesco Clubcard (other data collection cards are available) you are paying inflated prices compared with those who do use loyalty cards. How did we ever get to this crazy situation?

Beware of the innovative services. I think it can only get worse.


wavechange – in fact, we rarely use Tesco these days, but when we do we don’t use the clubcard. So nothing lost!


I wish I could say the same, Malcolm. Unfortunately I would have to drive a fair distance to use anything other than Tesco.

Soon after I reluctantly signed up for the dreaded Clubcard I had a call from Tesco and I made it clear that this was the last time they called me. Thankfully, I have never received another call.


How does midata work? What is the mechanism? How do apps get hold of your data to analyse it and make recommendations? How is your transaction data updated?

Read Ms Swinson’s article and these questions remain unanswered. Which means that you can’t assess midata.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) want us all to have so-called “personal data stores”, PDSs.

A PDS is a computer file which stores standing information about you like your name and birthday, your sex and your address, your driving licence number and you passport number, and so on. And it stores transaction information, particularly bank transactions, telephone usage, gas and electricity consumption, and so on. Your educational qualifications could be stored in your PDS, as could information about your medical health. One way and another, your PDS will paint a very accurate and full picture of you.

Where is this PDS maintained? BIS’s answer seems to be that you will retain a trusted third party like Mydex to maintain it for you. Mydex offer secure computer facilities to host your PDS. If you give Mydex the user IDs, passwords and so on that allow you to log on to your bank accounts and Amazon accounts and HMRC accounts for tax returns, and so on, then they can keep your PDS permanently updated with new transaction data and they can keep your suppliers permanently updated with changes of address, say, or job changes, and so on.

Why should you trust Mydex or any other supplier you’ve never heard of? Are there any secure computer facilities? Is it wise to hand over your logon IDs and passwords to other people even if you know them, let alone a stranger like Mydex? Why would you grant access to all your data to third party apps developers you know even less about than Mydex?

midata — whether Ms Swinson and Which? realises it or not — is luring people into making all the mistakes that we are normally warned against. To protect us against fraud, we are normally advised to keep secret all the data that midata encourages us to reveal. It would be more upright if Ms Swinson had mentioned that in her article.

It should be noted that the chairman of Mydex is also a member of BIS’s midata strategy boa