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midata to give marketing data back to consumers - but are firms ready?

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15th Apr 2011
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As few as 10% of UK companies with large customer databases are ready to respond to the coalition government’s ‘midata’ initiative, which aims to provide consumers with online access to data collected about them for marketing purposes.

A key goal of the scheme, which forms part of the government’s freshly published ‘Consumer Empowerment Strategy – Better Choices: Better Deals’ approach, is to create a new market for service providers to aggregate and crunch such data in order to present it in a comprehensible format for consumers.

Consumer Minister Edward Davey said at the launch: "We are getting behind a radical shift of power. For years, skilled businesses have realised the value of good consumer management. We’re trying to shift to a world of what you might call vendor management, where consumers have control of their own data."

The idea is to provide users with the tools to help them manage their relationships with suppliers by choosing which organisations they want to share information with and controlling how they wish to do business.

To this end, the government has set up a midata working group to assess suitable formats for presenting such data and enabling it to be used by third parties such as price comparison sites.

The group includes consumer groups, government representatives and companies such as Barclaycard, Everything Everywhere and Google. It is chaired by Professor Nigel Shadbolt, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton and a government adviser since 2009.

In May 2010, Shadbolt was appointed to the Public Sector Transparency Board, which was responsible for introducing the government’s open data initiative, mandating that certain forms of information be published by all public authorities.

He said: "Information about how we shop, travel and live our lives is a powerful source of insight so it’s important that each of us should be able to access our own data. I am very much looking forward to chairing the MyData group, which aims to make accessing this data much simpler, and should be a watershed on how we use data to get a better deal every day."

Chris Combemale, executive director at the Direct Marketing Association said of the initiative: "The DMA strongly supports initiatives that build trust between the consumer and business. This non-regulatory partnership between government and business is very encouraging and we are certain that our industry will take an active lead in creating new consumer services. The DMA will foster innovation and help bring business on board by hosting workshops and educational forums to encourage our members to create new services and technology."

But not all responses to the new scheme have been positive. Alan Mitchell, strategy director at customer relationship consultancy Ctrl-Shift, warned that 90% UK businesses were unprepared to cope with such a move and the 10% that were, were concentrated mainly in the telecoms sector.

While the firm’s research indicated that 40% of organisations with large customer databases already planned to enable customers to access some of the information held on them, such data was limited in scope. Moreover, the aim was to retain control of such information by providing consumers with the tools required to process it, he added.

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