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UKRN and Whitehall and Industry Group: summary of event on consumer data

UKRN and the Whitehall and Industry Group (WIG) once again joined forces on 18 September 2019 for an event exploring the power of consumer data to improve consumer outcomes.

Expertly chaired by Simon Ancona of WIG, we were joined by four speakers addressing the opportunities and challenges from different perspectives:

Tim Jarvis, Director, Consumer and Competition Policy at BEIS, spoke about the opportunities for making data work for consumers’ benefit that are the focus of BEIS’ current Smart Data Review. He also emphasised the need for Government and regulators to work together to make digital markets and customer data more open in order to help drive competition.

Louise Beardmore, Customer Services and People Director at United Utilities, set out the customer benefits of using data to understand customer needs and anticipate issues better. She drew on particular examples of initiatives to identify consumers in vulnerable circumstances across utility services, including a data-sharing pilot in the North-West. She also talked compellingly about the centrality of trust: ensuring that an organisation could explain to a consumer why capturing and sharing their data would benefit them, and being transparent and seeking consent in how that data would be used.

Catherine Miller, Director of Policy at Doteveryone, discussed their recent research on people’s limited understanding and awareness of data collected about them, and that while customers often benefit in terms of services provided they do not always understand the potential negative or unintended impact. She illustrated how difficult it can be to navigate the processes for opting out or restricting how digital services and companies use your data, and the need for organisations to be transparent and do more to build in easy to use privacy and data-management.

Simon McDougall, Executive Director – Technology Policy and Innovation at the ICO, noted the tension that sometimes occurs between regulation and industry practice in data-sharing. He supported the importance of establishing trust and being clear about purpose in the way data is used. He noted that where data-sharing was clear and to the consumers advantage the regulation worked in support of this, but where not that safeguards for consumers’ rights must be in place.

The speakers then took questions and helped lead roundtable discussion on these different themes and perspectives, which were summarised by Emily Keaney and others from the UKRN team.

We are very grateful to the speakers, to WIG for organising and chairing the discussion and Clifford Chance for hosting the event.