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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?.

Comments
Member

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.

Member
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.

Member

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.

Member

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!

Member

@MalcolmR: So you always pay by cash then?

Member
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?

Member

David, no

Member

So you are still being profiled then!