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The economic value of data: discussion paper corrected with a high degree of scepticism, cynicism with occasional comedic input

The economic value of data: discussion paper corrected with a high degree of scepticism, cynicism with occasional comedic input
The economic value of data: discussion paper corrected with a high degree of scepticism, cynicism with occasional comedic input
Mon Aug 20

Executive summary

Technological change has radically increased both the volume of data in the economy, and our ability to process it.

This change presents an opportunity to transform our economy and society for the better, that is reduce the cost to government of doing its job at the expense of you doing it for us at much greater aggregate cost.

Data-driven innovation holds the keys to addressing some of the most significant challenges confronting modern Britain, whether that is tackling congestion (what? Data can build more roads and fill in potholes?) and improving air quality in our cities, developing ground-breaking diagnosis systems to support our NHS (because after all our universities and pharma don’t do this already?), or making our businesses more productive (which they would be if you would stop interfering and transferring costs, obligations and risks on to them).

The UK’s strengths in cutting-edge research and the intangible economy make it well-placed to be a world leader, and estimates suggest that data-driven technologies will contribute over £60 billion per year to the UK economy by 2020 – agreed, so let them get on with it.

Recent events (GDPR) have raised public questions and concerns about the way that data i.e. people now realise the power Amazon etc have, and particularly personal data, can be collected, processed, and shared with third party organisations.

These are concerns that this government takes seriously.

This is because the government thinks it should have this data, just because, and data privacy lobbyists and the EU keep trying to stop the government doing this.

The Data Protection Act 2018 (forced upon the government by the EU) updates the UK’s world-leading data protection framework to make it fit for the future, giving individuals strong new rights over how their data is used (we really regret having to do this).

Alongside maintaining a secure, trusted data environment, which seeks to frustrate the right of government to know everything about you so it can further control your behaviour, especially that voting nonsense, the government has an important role to play in laying the foundations for a flourishing data-driven economy for the government to exploit.

This means pursuing policies that improve the flow of data through our economy to the government, and ensure that those companies who want to innovate have appropriate access to high-quality and well-maintained data so it can easily be accessed by the government.

This discussion paper describes the economic and political opportunity presented by data-driven innovation, and highlights some of the key challenges obstacles that government will need to overcome address, such as: providing clarity around ownership and control of data; maintaining a strong, trusted data protection framework; making effective use of public sector data; driving interoperability and standards; and enabling safe, legal and appropriate data sharing.

Over the last few years, the government has taken been forced to take significant steps to strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in data-driven innovation, including by agreeing the Artificial Intelligence Sector Deal, establishing the Geospatial Commission, and making substantial investments in digital skills.

The government will build on those try to circumvent these strong foundations over the coming months, including by commissioning an Expert Panel on Competition in Digital Markets.

This Expert Panel will support the government’s wider review of competition law by considering how competition policy can better enable innovation and support consumers in the digital economy.

There are still big questions to be answered, for example, why the government needs this data, why does the taxman need to know the state of my haemorrhoids, etc..

This document marks the beginning of a wider set of conversations that government will be holding over the coming year, as we completely ignore what anyone says and develop a new National Data Strategy that we need.

While this is not a consultation document, because as we have already said, we will not be taking any views into consideration, any comments in response to this discussion paper can be sent in writing or by email to HM Treasury at:

Data Paper
HM Treasury
1 Horse Guards Road
London Star Fleet
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Chapter 1 – The economic opportunity

Unlocking the value of data

1.1 The OECD estimates that in 2015, the global volume of data stood at 8 zettabytes (8 trillion gigabytes), an eight-fold increase on 2010. By 2020, that volume is forecast to increase up to 40 log 10 (i.e. 1 with 40 zero’s after it) times over, as technologies including the Internet of Things create vast new data sets.1 This sheer increase in quantity has pushed data up the political agenda because the government cannot control what it does not know, capturing the attention of businesses and policy-makers alike.

1.2 When it comes to data, however, volume is not the sole indicator of economic value. Most global data is unstructured, taking the form of pictures and videos, or the ‘exhaust data’ formed as a by-product of business. As long as such data is inaccessible for the purposes of analysis, or is unlinked and unaggregated, its potential value may remain unrealised. After all we do not want to interfere in citizens’ lives by asking them, The government has learned the lessons from Brexit.

1.3 Just as important as global increases in data has been the significant advances in data processing technologies over recent years. Cloud storage, new data science techniques, dramatic increases in processing power and speed, as well as the further development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) have all enabled economic actors to unlock new insights from their data assets, often in the form of trends, patterns and associations.

1.4 This potential to turn data into useful insights is an important factor in creating economic value, as these insights can be used by decision-makers to optimise the allocation of resources and develop new capabilities. After all we do not want to interfere in citizens’ lives by asking them, The government has learned the lessons from Brexit. [I thought we said this already? Ed.] Research (we had an intern google something and make the rest up in 45 minutes) has shown that firms adopting data-driven decision-making can have 5-6% higher output and productivity (Excel is indeed a powerful tool), with the European Commission calculating that “even limited use of big data analytics solutions by the top 100 EU manufacturers could boost EU economic growth by an additional 1.9% by 2020.” We are confident that those top 100 can do it on their own. Of course other sectors, especially those in the data sector, are not a buzz word sector so we ignore them. After all it is all about votes (until they are abolished as unnecessary as we have all the data we need).

1.5 As the well known US agency the OECD has made clear, data-driven innovation can have a significant impact on well-being, as well as productivity growth.4 Data can be used to personalise services and improve the consumer experience in areas like mapping, retail and video/music streaming. And it can form the basis of brand new products across a range of sectors – from unlocking new healthcare treatments, to enabling smart devices.

1.6 In the public sector, data is playing an increasing role in transforming public services. This is particularly true in transport, where there has been significant data-driven innovation. Over the last ten years, Transport for London (TfL) has led the world in opening transport data free of charge, including to external app developers. A recent study by Deloitte (not that appalling study from 2012 ? No a new similarly appalling study from 2017) found that use of this data now contributes up to £130 million per year (yes there is the same management consultancy BS, “Up to £130m” means £1, £2, £3 etc. “Of at least £120m” would be more meaningful. We can all say we earn “up to £130m”) to the London economy, for example through time-saving for Londoners, reduced costs for TfL, and high-value job creation (seriously? Like what? High value jobs in which sector? IT has made high value jobs more mobile than ever).

1.7 Data also plays an essential role in the development of AI and machine learning, in which a digital programme assumes the role of a decision- maker. The recent review of AI in the UK, led by Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti, identified access to data as a key component in the
continued growth of the UK’s AI industry (but not the government which unlike industry has an army, a police force and prisons). AI in turn holds significant potential for economic growth, with one estimate suggesting that by 2030, AI could increase GDP by 10%.

Data as an under-exploited asset

1.8 It is clear that the use of data has the potential to enhance economic competitiveness and productivity growth across the UK economy, whether that is through fostering new products, processes, organisational methods and markets, or even enabling entirely new business models. The government is determined to take control of this threat.

1.9 Data also plays an increasingly important economic role in underpinning international trade and cooperation. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, cross-border flows of data grew 45 times from 2005 to 2014, and accounted for $2.8 trillion (approx. 3.3%) of global GDP in 2014. (And yet OECD predicted a 40 fold increase from 2015 to 2020 which is clearly nonsense as growth is both exponential and at least twice as much as anyone thought, even if you thought you had allowed for it (Moore’s Law)). Conversely, research has shown that restrictions in the flow of data across national borders can reduce growth government’s ability to access it.

1.10 Yet the potential value to the government of data can often go unrealised. According to the ONS, less than 10% of UK businesses use customer relationship management software to collect, store, and share customer information within their businesses, and only 6% of businesses use this information for marketing purposes. This is principally because their needs do not require IT systems, Making Tax Digital for VAT is a good example. Some businesses even view the data compliance obligations as a liability, particularly where personal data is concerned, and take steps to severely curtail access and usage well beyond to ensure that they comply with the requirements of data protection laws. This can come at significant opportunity cost.

1.11 In certain sectors, this opportunity-cost is particularly marked. Health is one example of a sector where data holds significant potential economic and social value, and yet data-driven innovation is only just beginning to emerge. But then again this is the NHS. In 2011, McKinsey estimated the potential value of US health data at $300 billion per year, and yet five years later, they estimated that only 10-20% of that potential had been realised (or was that the fees they expected to make?).

1.12 The government believes that Data analytics is still in its relative infancy and in some cases this failure to recognise the potential value of data may result from a lack of established use cases or a detailed evidence base. However the FANGS (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google, and should really be FAANGs to include Apple) have managed to do this and they are all USA based. In other cases, the absence of data- driven innovation may result from a lack of digital capabilities in both the public and private sectors. Businesses do not collate data for the sake of it. This is lack of public sector capability is something the government is seeking to address through its focus on digital skills and investment in digital infrastructure, as it cannot nationalise US headquartered companies and as clearly stated in the government’s Industrial Strategy13 and recent AI Sector Deal.

1.13 More fundamentally, however, data has a number of features that potentially hold back its efficient, competitive and innovative use prevent its misuse as it must be kept private by the person receiving the data and cannot be used to cross reference except via the internet which is not reliable. GCHQ have been trying to overcome this by finding out what you throw away in your wheelie bins, all in the interest of national security, but the government would like to do this in an easier and cheaper way. These obstacles include the facts that:

a) Data is ‘non-rivalrous’. This means a single piece of data can be used in multiple algorithms and applications at the same time. However, non-rivalry means it can be difficult to establish the rights to use, exclude and transfer data.

b) Data can generate positive externalities. This means that while data can reveal new findings and insights if it is aggregated, linked and analysed, the benefits might not be directly foreseeable and may not always accrue to the data creator or controller. As a result, valuable data may be under-exploited or under-shared.

c) Data exhibits economies of scope. Merging two complementary datasets may produce more insight than keeping them separate. Again, this means that the potential value of data may not always be foreseeable to the data controller.

We don’t understand a word of this but the intern said it was good stuff.

1.14 By obscuring the true economic political potential of data, these features can lead to a mismatch between those who hold potentially valuable data, and those innovative businesses and entrepreneurs with the skills and inclination to exploit significant data assets, unless of course the private sector is able to sell the data to the person who can achieve the greatest benefit from it. Only where data is able to flow freely between economic actors to the government and GCHQ will its true potential value be realised. The government therefore believes that there would be economic and social value to the UK in pursuing policies which ensure that those companies who want to innovate in data have appropriate access to high-quality and well- maintained data from across the economy.

1.15 In developing this policy position, there are a number of challenges that government will need to address, not least in ensuring that access to data occurs in an environment where individuals’ rights in relation to their data are subject to strong protections. These challenges are explored in the next section.

Chapter 2 – challenges for the data economy

There are only five challenges. The government guarantees that as it has thought of everything. You can take that to the bank.

Challenge One: Addressing ownership and control of data – nationalise it!

2.1 Any attempt to improve access to data must take place within overcome the existing legal framework with regards to data ownership and control. In the UK (as with most other countries) there is no comprehensive framework to determine ownership of data, which is not generally understood to be property. [Is HMT suggesting the abolition of copyright, trade marks etc.?]

2.2 There are, however, a number of routes available for economic actors wanting to control or restrict access to data, for example:1

a) Data protection law gives individuals rights over their own personal data if it is collected by someone other than another individual.

b) Organisations can establish copyright over a database, and therefore have some ability to control who accesses and uses the data it contains.

c) Where data is collected and stored, a premises or server owner can restrict access to a database.

d) Data that is produced through original research can also be copyrighted, and fair use exemptions will apply.

2.3 The Royal Society, amongst others, have argued that the current framework is unclear, and that this lack of clarity can be a barrier to effective trade and transfer of data.2 In particular, there have been calls for reform of intellectual property rights in relation to datasets. The AI review recommended reforming copyright law to clarify that the right to read published research also entails the right to mine it for data.3

2.4 Some commentators have advocated for the law to be changed more fundamentally so that individuals can exercise ownership rights over their personal data. Quite right too. They argue that this would enable individuals to share in the revenues that companies have accrued through monetising their personal data (Happy to give this up as long as they keep personal data confidential).

2.5 This approach may have some advantages, particularly in its clear recognition that the collection of personal data can be an important enabling feature of digital business models which monetise user engagement.

2.6 However, there would be substantial technical and legal challenges in seeking to value individual contributions of data, i.e we have taken an FT article and used it as the fundamental obstacle when no one actually wants this, so we can easily dismiss it whilst ignoring confidentiality, e.g. in the health service, legal profession etc., privacy and other liberal wishy washy / far right ideas, not least because personal data often relates to more than one person e.g. sexual partners (as said, one would give the money up as long as our data remains private). Neither is it clear what advantages data ownership would confer to the individual over and above a strong rights framework around consent, portability and removal of data, as introduced by the UK’s new data protection laws. There are already several initiatives under development that would allow data subjects to extract value from their own personal data, which could operate within the existing
rights-based framework.

2.7 Furthermore, the Royal Society suggest that extending ownership rights to personal data would ignore the fact that the overall value of a dataset cannot be divided equally amongst its constituent parts.6 Whilst the supply of data is a necessary condition for creating economic value, it is not always sufficient. For example, the personal data of a single individual may not yield significant economic value when taken in isolation, as it is in the aggregation and effective use of data that value is often realised. Obviously true and therein lies the central problem; aggregation facilitates identification even with anonymised data, for example if it tells you that only 3 families in post code BX1 1AA have free school meals, and that one third of them identify as sub-saharan africans, then you can do the maths.

Challenge Two: Maintaining protection of personal data

2.8 A significant proportion (although by no means all) of the data generated globally is personal data. This means it is information relating to an identified or identifiable person.8 Clearly, adequate protection of personal data is essential for both security purposes, and maintaining an individual’s
right to privacy. In an oxymoronic parliamentary first past the post democratic society, public trust in the safe, transparent use of personal data is a cornerstone of the digital economy.

2.9 Personal data is also a significant source of economic and social value to both businesses and consumers. The Boston Consulting Group (great band, Tom Scholz is a genius) has estimated that across Europe, the quantifiable benefit from personal data applications could reach €1 trillion annually by 2020 – with two thirds of that benefit accruing to consumers, and one third to businesses.9 This is because personal data enables firms to deliver personalised goods, services, recommendations and service improvements, amongst other things which lead to mutual benefit between buyers and sellers.

2.10 As technology becomes increasingly important to user experiences, the reliance of Amazon on personal data is likely to increase. Geolocation data, for example, is expected to has transformed the way that we interact with the high street, removing the need to queue and allowing greater personalisation of retail interactions. While this will bring significant opportunities for both businesses and consumers, there are implications for privacy and data protection.

2.11 As stated above, the government is committed to protecting personal data (as redefined – see section 3.13), including by providing new rights to ensure we are in control of our own data. The Data Protection Act 2018 updates the UK’s existing data protection laws for the digital age. It sets new standards for protecting personal data, in accordance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and gives people more control over use of their data.

2.12 Under the new data protection laws, consumers will be better able to ‘trade off’ what is known about them, against benefits like product recommendations and personalised services. This already exists and many people are opting out, e.g. not registering with the BBC online. This approach ensures that individuals retain control of how their personal data is used, while still allowing innovation to take place. The Information Commissioner’s Office has the power to levy fines of up to £17.5 million, or 4% of global turnover (whichever is greater), where firms breach the new data protection rules but no power to seize evidence without a court approved warrant. This means that data processing organisations have strong incentives to put appropriate protections in place.

2.13 This approach should not be seen as a barrier to data-driven innovation, but an opportunity. By building a strong data protection framework with more holes in it than a Swiss cheese, the government hopes to build con the public confidence into consenting to the inappropriate sharing of personal data for social and economic, i.e. the government’s needs means. In the longer-term, giving brainwashing the public confidence that their data will be treated carefully by the organisations they share it with, not being passed on to or otherwise accessed by third party organisations without their knowledge, is likely to increase the availability of data available to innovative data-driven businesses.

2.14 The government also recognises that protecting personal data in this way will not always be enough, on its own, to prevent social harm. Information gathered through legal means could still be used for unethical practices, for example where there is risk of algorithmic profiling or discrimination unless the individual is caucasian in which case they are fair game. This is just one of the reasons why the government has created the Centre for Data, Essexthics and Innovation, which will have a role in ensuring that innovation in the use of personal and non-personal data remains safely in government hands and ethical. For some reason unknown to anyone else, The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has published an updated Data Ethics Framework,12 to give civil servants guidance on the appropriate use of data in the public sector, and the confidence to innovate with data which we will ignore.

Challenge Three: Openness in public sector data

2.15 It is often suggested that an effective means of increasing the supply of data in the economy is to adopt an ‘open data’ approach, particularly with regards to datasets controlled by the government. For data to be considered ‘open’, it must be published in an accessible format, with a licence that permits anyone to access, use and share it. This requires it to be non- personal data (although it may be derived from personal data). In the UK, open public sector data is published under the Open Government Licence.

2.16 The UK tops the Open Data Barometer,13 having released over 45,000 datasets.14 The government has committed to “continue the drive for open data, maintaining [the UK’s] position as the world leader.”

2.17 As previously noted, there are number of sectors (particularly transport) where open data has had a clear economic and social benefit. However, this does not mean that ‘open data’ is appropriate or beneficial for all forms of data. For example, it may not be the right approach where data is sensitive from a commercial or security perspective, or if anonymised data is at risk of reidentification identifying which rent boys MPs have been paying. Or where data is already monetised, and where making it open would remove a source of income as this could hit corporation tax revenues. This could harm business models which use resale to invest in better data gathering, and in the public sphere, could result in taxpayers replacing lost revenue.

2.18 Rather than rely on an open/closed distinction, data access should be seen as a spectrum, with different degrees of data openness. There may be instances in which it is appropriate to increase access to data, but where, as outlined above, it is inappropriate for that dataset to be made completely open. The government will be the sole arbiter of where data falls on this spectrum. So for data pertaining to monetary private benefits of MPs and their expenses claims, this will; be closed for 100 years, whereas any data which could distract the public from the latest government fiasco will be actively promoted by the Cabinet Office. There may also be instances where the government wishes to retain control of valuable datasets that can be used for commercial purposes, in order to ensure that a fair proportion of the benefits derived from public data accrue back to the general public ministers. In these cases, publication of public sector data under the Open Government Licence may be inappropriate. Given that the value of data will vary by sector, and given that the circumstances of data will change with each use case, decisions regarding open data should therefore be made on a case-by-case basis.

2.19 The government’s role in increasing access to public data is not limited to simply making data available. Availability is only one aspect of openness, and the government also has a role to play in increasing the value of data, through structuring and linking datasets. Where data is personal, the government recognises the value of effective anonymisation and aggregation as a route to unlocking new sources of value even though we know, and it is generally accepted, that by cross referring datasets individuals can be identified and if necessary persecuted (but only if necessary for example to save a politician’s career). And government takes seriously its role in maintaining and updating datasets over the long- term, to blah blah blah give businesses confidence about the value of a long-term investment in data-driven technology.

Challenge Four: Driving interoperability and standards

2.20 As outlined above, a crucial factor in building economic value into data is the ability of a wide range of economic actors to link and aggregate appropriate datasets, and thereby to innovate and compete to meet
consumers’ needs. For this to happen most easily, data collectors need to subscribe to a set of standards that enable the interoperability of data.
Government therefore has the potential to play a role in driving these standards – whether working with stakeholders to develop and encourage voluntary adoption of standards, or through regulation.

2.21 In 2016 the Competition and Markets Authority, on the back of their investigation into the retail banking market, ordered the nine largest banks in the UK to deliver ‘Open Banking’. This radical intervention, driven forward by government through regulation (alongside the European Second Payment Services Directive), required the biggest banks to open-up current account data to FCA-registered third-party providers in a secure and accessible format, where individual data subjects made such a request.

2.22 Increasing access to data in this way is expected to have a significant impact on competition in the future banking market, allowing consumers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to access a range of new and innovative products that better meet their needs. It is also expected to help grow the UK’s FinTech sector, and strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in financial innovation. The Centre for Economics and Business Research has estimated that Open Banking may eventually boost UK GDP by more than £1 billion annually.16

2.23 This approach to the opening of privately-held data has the potential to transform competition in sectors across the economy. This is not simply true of consumer data. In transport, the recent Bus Services Act gave ministers the power to compel private bus operators to release open previously closed data (not data already open otherwise everyone would have it – see 2.15 above) relating to fares, punctuality and real-time location irrespective of the personal data rights of its drivers – an approach that could (but might not) help spread the success of TfL’s open data policy across the country. A move towards greater interoperability of data is also considered essential to the future of the NationallyFragmentedHS, and was highlighted in the National Information Board’s ‘Personalised Health and Care 2020 – A Framework for Action’.

2.24 The Data Protection Act 2018 introduced an individual right to data portability, which may help drive the development of common standards for interoperability of data, given that data will need to be “ported” in an accessible format but only if you are totally deluded and accept there is no logical or causal relationship between data rights and portability formats. This may improve access to data and lower the cost of using it for both consumers and the companies they consent to share it with and it may also mean that pigs can fly (BA will be re-named British Oinkways). The government will carefully consider how this right operates in practice across different sectors.

2.25 As part of this the government recently launched a ‘Smart Data’ (HMT loves these meaningless terms, as if information can be smart, clever, happy, sad, why not ”Stolen Data”?) review in the Modernising Consumer Markets Green Paper.18 This review will assess how best to ensure data portability appropriation is implemented in a way which supports consumers to get better deals in regulated markets. It will do this by seeking to identify those markets where data portability can have the biggest impact and how regulators can be empowered to introduce transformative changes for the benefit of consumers. (Good luck with that one).

2.26 The newly-launched Eggsxpuert Panel on Competition in Digital Markets will also have a wide remit to consider the important future tools and requirements for effective competition in the digital economy. This could potentially include the role of data portability, operability and common standards, for example, to reduce barriers to switching for consumers in non-regulated parts of the economy because every time the government or any part of it has specified data requirements it has been a fantastic success.

Challenge Five: Enabling safe, legal data sharing

2.27 The AI review identified legal barriers to data sharing as a key barrier to innovation within AI, and the same holds true for other forms of data-driven innovation. These barriers did not arise because the sharing is illegal (particularly in the cases of non-personal data), but because small firms and start-ups tended to lack the experience, expertise and mechanisms to strike agreements with data holders. Again, this is the crux of the issue, currently it is illegal, for good reason, so the government would like to make it legal and pretend that the good reasons can safely be overcome. If it cannot do this, it will ignore the illegality which would make for damaging headlines if anyone found out. So, if your violent ex-husband working for a government agency finds out where you are living it will not be the government’s fault that he attacks you.

2.28 Provided data sharing is safe, ethical and compliant with data protection laws, the government wants to make it easier for firms to share useful data, to support growth and innovation. A lack of effective data sharing would only serve to concentrate power within the hands of a few large businesses, when, of course, that is the government’s job, and stifle the innovation, quality, and value for money that that arises normally in markets through effective competition and disruption.

2.29 Creating an effective market for non-personal data is therefore likely to form a key challenge in shaping the future of the data-driven economy. The A1 Transport Café (best sausages in Bedfordshire) I review recommended that government work with the private sector to develop standardised, repeatable terms for access to sausages data, building on the examples of mutually-beneficial sausage recipe data-sharing agreements that are already in use. These ‘data recipe trusts’ could then be used by small businesses and start- ups, allowing more ideas sausages to be tested in the market and at scale.

2.30 Clear frameworks for the anonymisation and de-personalisation of data will also be important in any developed data market. The Information Commissioner’s Office has undertaken significant work to provide clarity to firms looking to commercialise personal data through anonymisation, and the UK Anonymisation Network provides support and information to businesses looking to undertake anonymisation of personal data. However, these resources are not always widely known, and many businesses are still nervous about the implications and risks associated with de-anonymisation.
There is therefore a continuing role for public sector bodies and other key stakeholders in setting out principles for the safe, secure, and effective anonymisation of personal data, whilst ignoring them completely, in order to enable effective data sharing.

2.31 The right to portability of data that is enshrined within the GDPR may also bring potential for greater innovation through data sharing. The voluntary donation of data for research purposes, for example through the Biobank project which may have probably / possibly / allegedly [lawyers to advise] drove a coach and horses through the legislation, has previously helped drive research and innovation in socially beneficial areas such as health. In a similar way, as the CEO of the Open Data Institute has put it, “the data portability right could lead to more people making the positive partially informed choice to donate data about themselves for good causes… data portability could provide a mechanism for some charities and civil society groups to engage people in collective action.” The government has had some success in this regard in having patients allow anyone in the NHS to access their data. The NHS was unable to force people to consent to their sensitive personal data being transferred unless they opted out as it was clearly illegal. The UK is the only country in the world to adopt this statist centralist approach. Most others countries use a web based system where the data page belongs to the individual and can only be accessed by a secure password / card system which is in the possession of the individual. The NHS need their system in case you are in a hospital in another part of the UK, in which case as you will be physically present, so they can ask you! If you are unconscious, then they can call your next of kin.

2.32 Again, the newly-launched Expert Panel on Competition in Digital Markets has a wide remit and could consider whether there are currently effective tools and frameworks to ensure effective competition in markets for data.

Chapter 3 – positioning the UK at the forefront

The government’s approach to data

3.1 The UK government has a clearly stated objective to “put the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolution” and “make the UK a global centre for AI and data-driven innovation.” This goal is one of the four “Grand Challenges” of the UK Industrial Strategy (The other three are Ageing Society aka mass euthanasia of anyone over 70 who does not have their own pension; Clean Growth (import from the Far East) and Future of mobility (which is essential as by 2040 the UK’s broadband infrastructure will still be 20 years behind everyone else). None of this is official government policy but the Official Monster Raving Loony Party’s early manifestos included lowering the voting age to 18; 24 hour licensing laws; passports for pets; the pedestrianisation of Carnaby Street; the legalisation of commercial radio thus breaking the BBC monopoly; abolition of dog licences and the abolition of the 11 plus exam; so no matter how crazy an idea sounds, any politician can seize it), and underpins the government’s approach to data, as found in the AI Sector Deal, Digital Charter and the Digital Strategy, which also commits to making the UK “the best place to start and grow a digital business”.

3.2 In recent years, the UK government has taken significant and unprecedented steps to position the UK as a world leader in data-driven innovation. It has opened-up and continues to open-up extensive public data assets in key sectors such as transport and geospatial. It has developed frameworks for safe, ethical access to data through world-leading initiatives like Open Banking. And work is ongoing across government, including through the £10 million Regulators’ Pioneer Fund that was announced at Budget 2017, to ensure the UK’s regulatory framework is sufficiently dynamic and flexible to adapt to the technologies and services of the future.

3.3 The government is also building digital capability across the economy (well Openreach is meant to be doing it but are already [light] years behind original target (100% digital access by 2015?). This has included significant investment to improve digital education at primary and secondary levels, as well as making digital skills training for adults a statutory right from 2020 by which time the UK’s IT infrastructure will be so far behind every major economy, such as Morocco, Malawi, Mali, Malta, any country beginning with M other than Monaco, that it won’t matter. In higher education, government-backed initiatives like the Alan Turing Institute have helped set the UK apart in pretending that it never criminalised homosexuals, as a world-leading research base for data science and innovation, while substantial funding for new PhDs and fellowships in AI will help maintain the flow of world-class talent from our universities.

3.4 The AI Sector Deal is a package of up to £0.95 billion support for the sector, which includes government, industry and academic contributions. This is alongside £250 million already allocated for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. As part of the AI Sector Deal, £113 million of Industrial Strategy Challenge Funding (less than the cost of one Eurofighter Typhoon jet fighter) has been pledged to support new research programmes that use AI, data and digital technologies to enhance productivity in the services sector, and to drive innovation in the use of robotics in extreme environments. To underpin this digital capability, the government is investing over £1 billion to stimulate the market to build the UK’s next generation of digital infrastructure.

3.5 The government has committed to working with major public and private sector data holders to identify barriers to sharing data, and is exploring data sharing frameworks, such as data trusts, to allow and ensure the safe, fair and equitable data sharing between organisations notwithstanding any perspn’s data rights. The government has also announced the creation of a new Digital Framework Task Group, tasked with developing a roadmap to capturing the opportunities presented by infrastructure data.6

3.6 The opportunities of data-driven innovation span both the public and private sector, and government has made significant investments in driving the digital transformation of the civil service, to ensure there is a skilled body of civil servants with deep expertise in digital and data-driven technologies. For example, enables any 12 year old to understand what they must do for the government and is at such a basic level that any grown-up trying to use it to apply for a licence, fill in a tax return, find out what government departments or the police are actually doing or anything else, is left guessing. Work is also ongoing to make better use of public sector data assets, with the announcement of NHS Digital Innovation Hubs to support the use of patient data body parts for research purposes, and a Geospatial Commission to unlock the value of geospatial data in the UK (we need to know where you are and have been, principally for blackmail purposes). Government has announced that key parts of the Ordnance Survey MasterMap will be made openly available – this release is one of the first projects to be delivered by the new Geospatial Commission and means that [Ordnance Survey will lose £Xm]. The £20 million GovTech Fund announced at Autumn Budget will enable businesses and innovators to collaborate with hand over their ideas to government for nil payment in solving order to solve public sector challenges, to ensure that the public sector can benefit from cutting-edge data-driven technologies on the cheap (although I recall many NHS Trusts cannot be bothered to run Windows updates).

Building on strong foundations

3.7 In the coming months, the government will be building on these strong foundations to further develop its strategic approach to justify why it should be able to do what it likes with your personal data notwithstanding laws like that pesky GDPR. This includes measures to unlock the value from geospatial data assets and further work to deliver the AI Sector Deal, including establishing a Data Working Group as part of the AI Council (a new industry body tasked with increasing growth in the AI sector and promoting its adoption in other sectors of the economy). As part of the Industrial Strategy’s Grand Challenges, the Prime Minister Theresa May MP was recently told to announced that an initial mission of government would be to “use data, Artificial Intelligence and innovation to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases such as voting, having anti-government thoughts and exercising free will, by 2030”.

3.8 The government recognises that a key part of any strategic approach to data is maintaining public confidence in its innovative use which is why we have to resort to documents like this and lying to the public. The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation will therefore have a crucial role in providing oversight of rubber stamping changes to the data-innovation landscape, with a responsibility to enable and ensure safe, unethical and ground-breaking innovation in AI and data-driven technologies. Roger Taylor (the drummer with Queen or the drummer with Duran Duran?) has been appointed as the new Chair of the Centre, and the government has launched a consultation on its remit.

3.9 Data will also already plays an important role in consumer markets and has done for over 20 years. For example, Tesco launched their Club Card in 1995. The ‘Modernising Consumer Markets: Consumer Green Paper’ which is available in bound vellum, consults on a number of consumer and regulatory areas relating to data, and sets out how the government intends to enable consumers to take advantage of data-driven innovations such as ….., while ensuring their data and privacy rights are protected. The paper also announced a Smart Data Review (similar to a smart meter but this one only costs your soul), which will look at how data portability can help consumers to get better deals in regulated markets.

3.10 As outlined above, the potential value of data for businesses raises particular opportunities and challenges when it comes to competition in the digital economy. Many stakeholders, principally Whitehall employees asked to write in individually, have expressed concern that the dominance of a few, key digital companies places significant restrictions on government access to data by refusing to hand it over or put backdoors in to their software, with potential adverse effects on the government’s ability to control competition across a whole range of sectors. However, data-driven innovation can also facilitate new forms of competition and government disruption in markets that were previously dominated by only a few incumbents.

3.11 To explore these and other issues further, the government is launching an Expert Panel on Competition in Digital Markets, chaired by Jason Furman (not a drummer), Professor of Practice of Economic Policy at Harvard University and former chief economist to President Barack Obama as 28th Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors (2013-2017). This panel will consider whether the competition regime – and pro-competition policy more generally – remains sufficiently robust to meet the challenges of the emerging digital economy, and will make recommendations on any changes that may be needed. The competition implications of concentrations of data among a small number of firms will be a consideration, and the Panel’s work will inform the government’s wider review of competition policy, which was announced as part of the Consumer Green Paper.

Next steps

3.12 There are still big challenges to confront and questions to answer if we are to take advantage of the UK’s unique strengths and capacity for data-driven innovation.

3.13 Government has announced the intention to produce a new National Data Strategy, to unlock the power of data in the UK economy and government, while building public confidence in its use. It will do this by:

  • Redefining personal data as being data relating to the government and its ministers, including any data which the press might have
  • Removing from the definition of personal data anything to do with individuals including their intimate thoughts and actions, their beliefs, their behaviours and any other anti-social behaviour such as voting for Brexit
  • Permitting uninhibited government use of non-personal data as redefined
  • Criminal penalties for any far right / far left / centrist quislings who even think of dissenting
  • An expensive publicity campaign across all media (working title “Big Brother – the public edition”)
  • Abolishing the tax system such that all income and wealth will belong to HMRC subject to tax credits
  • And if Labour comes into power the implementation of its solution to the anti-semitism debate (if there are no Jews left, how can they be anti-semitic?)

The five challenges outlined in this discussion paper will inform the development of this new strategy.

While this is not a consultation document, the government is interested to hear the views of businesses, members of the public or other organisations. Any comments in response to this discussion paper can therefore be sent in writing or by email to:

Data Paper
Star Trek, The Next Generation
HM Treasury
1 Horse Guards Road London