Outside ideas urgently needed to keep Midata ambitions alive

The Government’s Midata Innovation Lab (MIL) will be an exciting opportunity for those companies that want to see it, but for others it is the ’last chance saloon’ before they’re forced to give consumers’ data back to them. Agencies could give the project a much-needed spur.

Michael

The MIL is the latest stage in the Midata scheme, run by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which encourages brands to make consumers’ data available for them to use. The intention is that they can analyse it with the help of apps, in order to understand their consumption habits, look for better deals and make choices about their purchases.

Midata has struggled to get off the ground since its launch in 2011, chiefly because brands have seen little incentive to release commercial data that could convince a customer to go elsewhere. This new ‘innovation lab’ is supposed to be a forum to create and experiment with apps, using live data from volunteers who are mostly employees of the companies in the scheme.

MIL, though, is backed up with the added bite that the government can now force companies in the energy, telecoms, bank and credit card sectors to give up their data to consumers. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, passed by Parliament in April, gave the government powers to make regulations to that effect. None have yet been laid down, but if brands don’t co-operate in this last attempt to kick-start the innovation process, then that’s the explicit threat.

As consumer affairs minister Jo Swinson tells Marketing Week today (16 July): “If there end up being certain sectors that lag behind and refuse to engage in giving consumers the benefits of what is, after all, their data, then we’ve got the power to require them to do so. Clearly we’d much rather do it by getting them on board and recognising the advantages.”

She adds that the Midata model will be a crucial part of the economy in the coming decades, and she’s right about that. Consumers are increasingly going to be given the ability to make use of their own data commercially - not just for switching providers but also for managing their lives better. Brands that join in will be perceived as being on their side, while those that resist will just be the least prepared for these changes in the market.

However some Midata insiders still worry about how much impetus is behind this new push.

There are a lot of conflicting interests at play in this supposed collaboration. Many of the big brands would be happier getting still more access to customer data, rather than giving up theirs. But organisations such as Which? and personal data store providers ultimately would like to give consumers complete control of data they generate.

Even within government there are contradictions. Liberal Democrat-led BIS is trying to push forward the concept of data give-backs, but at the same time the Conservative-led Ministry of Justice lobbies against the EU’s new data regulation, which would make them a legal requirement.

What’s needed is more involvement from smaller organisations without big vested interests or corporate structures – especially technology companies and agencies. For the moment, there are few such companies inside the fold, but for those that take a chance by proposing ideas and developing new apps, there’s already an assembled pool of potential brand clients to impress.

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