The government is preparing the way for regulations to enable consumers and small businesses to request all their transaction data related to energy, mobile phones, current accounts and credit cards. If considered necessary, regulations could be in place in 2013, and may target other markets where certain factors point to consumer detriment.
The proposals should add momentum to the voluntary Midata programme fostered by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills to help industry and consumer representatives resolve some of the key challenges in the 'core' consumer markets.
The Information Commissioner’s Office would take the lead role in enforcing any regulations, while concurrent enforcement powers could be given to sector-specific regulators.
The 'transaction data' at stake are the records of a consumer’s own purchases or consumption from a supplier - what the consumer bought, where and how much they paid for it - not the supplier's subsequent analysis. The data would have to be released in computer-readable format to enable it to be analysed by the consumer or a service provider of his/her choosing. This would help prevent suppliers gaining an unfair pricing advantage over consumers, for example, and make it easier for consumers to figure out the product right for them.
Factors the government might consider when deciding whether to expand the programme to other sectors include:
- the market is not working well for consumers, e.g. consumers find it difficult to make the right choice or their behaviour affects pricing it's difficult to predict that behaviour;
- there's a one-to-one, long-term relationship between the business and the customer, with a stream of ongoing transactions;
- consumer engagement is limited, e.g. low levels of switching or competition; and
- suppliers don't voluntarily provide transaction/consumption data to customers at their request in portable electronic format.
I should add that I am involved in the Midata programme, as a member of the Interoperability Board, and on working groups considering issues related to data transmission and law/regulation.