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UK government pushes data-driven agenda

A smart data report has been published with consultations under way, while an open call for evidence has been launched to help shape the national data plan

The UK government is ramping up its efforts to harness the potential of data, publishing a report on smart data and launching a consultation to shape the National Data Strategy.

The Smart data report, published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), was announced in October to consider how development of data-driven technologies can be accelerated to improve consumer outcomes and boost business competition.

Smart data, according to the government’s definition, is “providing the ability to enable consumers, if they wish, to simply and securely share their data with third parties, to enable them to provide innovative services”.

Business secretary Greg Clark said in the report’s foreword: “In the 21st century, it is no longer acceptable for consumers to have to wait to gain access to their data and then expend significant time and effort to interpret what this data means and work out if they can get better deals elsewhere.

“Data needs to be smart: easily and instantly accessible to consumers and be able to be safely and securely transferred to third-party services that can use this data to provide innovative services for consumers.”

Beyond benefits to consumers, Clark also noted that the concept of smart data can encourage new entrants into markets and and put pressure on incumbents to lower prices and raise quality of service, while reducing the regulatory burden on new businesses because fewer interventions are needed.

To accelerate the development of data-driven services in consumer markets, the review’s proposals include setting up a cross-sectoral smart data function, which would oversee the delivery of such initiatives across multiple markets.

It also recommends the introduction of an open communications initiative to force businesses to provide consumer data to third-party providers at the consumer’s request.

A consultation as part of a broader competition green paper is also set out in the proposals, aimed at extending smart data to digital markets in BEIS’s response to the recommendations of the Digital Competition Expert Panel.

To help vulnerable consumers, the review proposes setting up a Vulnerable Consumer Challenge to encourage data-driven innovation to improve outcomes for those individuals, who would also be a key consideration in smart data initiatives and the new proposed function.

The document also proposes to find ways for regulators to use data to support vulnerable consumers, subject to appropriate protections.

Ensuring consumer protection is another strand of the report, which proposes to introduce strong data protection requirements on third parties accessing consumer data in order to build consumer trust.

At the same time, a cross-sectoral approach to third-party regulation on the use of consumer data is also being proposed, to minimise burdens on companies operating across multiple markets.

BEIS is consulting on the proposals until 6 August 2019. Overlapping conclusions between the Smart data review and the Digital Competition Expert Panel will be used to identify common areas of coordination, with joint consultation in the competition green paper.

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Separately, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has issued an open call for evidence to be submitted to help create the National Data Strategy.

Plans to develop the data strategy were first announced a year ago, as the first major DCMS initiative since it took over responsibility for data policy and governance from the Government Digital Service (GDS).

The key aim of the strategy is to harness data use across government and the wider economy, while building citizen trust in the use of data.

In the open call for evidence, the DCMS is seeking submissions from a broad range of stakeholders, including academia, bodies that represent startups and small businesses as well as members of the public, across six core objectives covering people, economy and government.

On people, key points are ensuring data is used in a way that people can trust, while also making sure all citizens can participate in a data-driven society.

For the economy, the goals are understanding how businesses and organisations in the third sector can operate effectively in a data-driven context and use data to improve growth and productivity.

The third key area to be addressed in the open call for evidence is improving public services delivery and government operations through effective collection, sharing and use of data.

The government also wants to hear about how public sector bodies can align in data sharing and use, and how cooperation can be fostered where appropriate.

The DCMS will consult on the parameters and objectives of the strategy and gather evidence that will underpin a draft strategy. A full consultation on the draft strategy will be undertaken later this year and a summary of relevant evidence will then be published.

Submissions can be emailed to [email protected] by 14 July 2019. The full set of questions under the open call for evidence can be found here.

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