Consumer Rights And Midata – What’s It All About?

Midata, is the latest government “consumer empowerment” initiative. It is looking at giving consumers the right to request access to their personal data in a standard, user-friendly, electronic format. We look at some of the issues.

What is it?

If brought into law in its current format, the midata proposals would force businesses who supply goods and services to give their customers access to certain electronic data that is held about them.

The key principle guiding the initiative is that consumers should be in charge of their personal data in order to be able to use it to inform their purchasing decisions and lifestyle choices. (An ambitious target to say the least!)

Haven’t I heard about this before?

Midata was born in November 2011, initially as a voluntary partnership between consumer groups, trade bodies, regulators and major businesses, and was approached with enthusiasm by several large organisations, in particular those in the energy sector who have been somewhat trail blazers in this field.

The latest proposal is to make the obligations on businesses mandatory. The government has put out a consultation, which ended in September, but has yet to publish its final conclusions.

How will this affect businesses?

The requirements for compliance with customer requests and the proposed regulations are expected to be limited:

  • They will only relate to a consumer’s purchase or consumption history.
  • They will only cover factual information and not a business’s subsequent analysis of data.
  • They will only apply to businesses that already hold information electronically.
  • The information will only have to be released on request. 

The government hopes that the cost implications of compliance will be limited, however this issue is open for debate.

At one end of the spectrum, an obligation to deliver up data in electronic format seems like a natural and fairly limited extension of the existing right individuals have to ask for all their personal data under the Data Protection Act 1998 (so called subject access requests).

At the other end of the spectrum, the government has raised the possibility of requiring all the data to be available at the touch of a button. If this requirement was carried in to law, a great many businesses would have to deploy systems and most probably websites to meet the obligation, which would unquestionably come at a material cost.

Are all businesses in scope?

Potentially, yes. The government are talking about applying the requirements to most businesses, but thinking about some exemptions in particular for SMEs.

What are the wider benefits?

It is hoped that by giving consumers greater access to their data this will not only help them to take greater control of their spending patterns, but will also also boost competition between companies both in terms of value and service.

It should also foster consumer trust which is of ever increasing importance.

In particular, the government’s hope is that midata will stimulate innovation in new data management tools and systems and facilitate the creation of a new data processor industry involving new products and tools to help consumers understand and use their data. This area has the potential for massive growth in coming years.

The industry response so far

There is a general fear that this will be seen as an extra regulatory burden on businesses, for limited if any, overall gain for the UK economy.

Unlike the government’s public sector “open data” initiative, businesses are not going to be required to put their entire data sets into the public domain (something most businesses will no doubt welcome). This step is likely to restrict the flow of information to a trickle, at least to begin with. It is questionable as to whether this will be enough to stimulate new businesses.

When will it likely be implemented?

As yet the government’s response to their consultation has not been published nor have they given any indication of a likely timescale for implementation ….so watch this space.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.