This particular idea is quite large in scale. The foundation for this idea is that in Europe, companies (e.g. supermarkets, energy companies, telephone companies, marketing firms, even Facebook and Google, ...) are obliged to turn over 'any' information they have about any citizen, should he or she personally request for it.

So, the idea is to make such public information requests happen easily and intuitively, on a massive scale, and to make the aggregation and (anonymous) sharing of this data possible.

As the first step, there should exist a website at which any citizen can download a relevant letter template and the relevant address of any company she is a customer with. This contact data and template could be created through crowd-sourcing. As a result, the citizen should be able to mail, fax or send a personal and legally binding request for her data within the timespan of 5 minutes or less.

Dedicated company profiles can then track the performance of the companies to these requests (e.g. average time to answer, quality of response, etc.), allow people to share tips of how to get an answer, and so on. Through this public platform, specific companies can be more easily compared and reviewed, similar to TripAdvisor, for instance. Data can be aggregated and compared by company, by business area, and so on.

As the second step, there should exist a collection of easy-to-use tools that can digitize and upload any information that has been given to the citizen by the companies. Such data might be provided on paper, in weird formats, unconventional time periods, and whatever. There might thus be a need to develop a specific tool, for a specific company. Again, this could happen through crowd-sourcing and by encouraging private developers to share their tools.

As the third step, there should exist some sort of online platform that allows the citizen to open up her information to others, even anonymously, so this data can be shared and compared (e.g. does a similar family in terms of number and age of children, house, etc. consume the same amount of energy than my family, and if they do, what do they pay for it). It would be interesting to compare such data locally, but as much internationally, for instance, based on real, 'individual' data. There might well be the case that people are intrinsically inclined to share their data if they can benefit from it, for instance by learning from others...

Greetings - infoscape.

submitted 19 Dec '11, 20:18

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edited 19 Dec '11, 20:26

This post made me smile. I love crowd sourcing ideas as well as a simple easy to use tool to find my personal internet footprint. If someone is seriously interested in organizing a team to get a web portal started (or App or whatever), I am seriously interested. A good way to get attention as well as initial funding would be start a project on Kickstarter.

I am also intrigued by how to analyze all of this data that is out there. Most importantly, to analyze and spit it back out in a form easy to read and understand. There needs to be an organization that can do this for the public good and not as a business model. If enough people can rally around this idea there is a possibility for a non-profit, but being able to get this information from companies that sell your personal information for profit would require more government intervention (especially here in the U.S.). Hopefully, the time will come soon for a public outcry for the ability to control ones privacy and information shared on the internet.

David Rogers


solved 20 Dec '11, 00:57

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I'm intrigued by this concept that some sort of FOI-style "right" applies to all data that could be associated with an individual. Where does this stop? It seems pretty straightforward that one should be able to see personally identifying information (name, address etc.) - the moral right to that would seem to stem from being able to ensure that such details are not bandied around with the resulting detriments to privacy, onslaught of spam marketing, and all the other evils that Data Protection was originally envisaged to mitigate against.

When it comes to transactional history, the picture does get a bit murkier. I suppose, where such transactions have an overt "privacy-type" angle - such as the locational tracking provided by mobile phone cell interaction records, one could make a claim to "have it back" - on similar grounds: it has to be identifiable to the consumer so that they can ensure it is being properly protected, or as a minimum that they know of its existence.

But when we get to transactional order histories and the like; yes, this may have marketing value to those who would sell similar to this consumer, and to others, I am less persuaded that there exists a moral right to "get it back". These are not clear-cut categories, of course. Personal facts are pegged to operational records, which then become transactional histories.

But I feel there's been a bit of a rampage across this landscape under the banner "give us back our data". In many cases, the act of giving it (and we can argue with what consent, of course) has been a one-way transaction: the company inveigles it from the punters in order to manage them and their future business opportunities better). You gave it away - why should you get it back?

In the olden days, imagine using one of the first telephones to politely enquire if the records within a parchment ledger relating to all your purchases could kindly be written out again in a letter to you. A sharp click would ensue. And though we can argue that technological advances have reduced the burden of data repatriation, they haven't removed them entirely. And the moral right to have those records (unspoken agenda: so that you can then sell them on the open market to other vendors or brokers) doesn't seem to have changed, just because the media and channels have.

Tread carefully here: this is a mighty cross-industry piece of regulation, changing at a stroke many of the things we expected a market to sort out (i.e. if someone messes you around asking for too much information and is clearly exploiting you, this is one of many factors you'll use to decide whether you want to trade with them again). I'm seeing rather too much "hell, it's all mine, and it doesn't cost you anything to give it back" language being thrown around carelessly here. It most certainly will cost - as a minimum, via the marketing advantages it will take away from the company holding the data. Expect those prices to go up as a result. You push things down somewhere, they'll pop up somewhere else. We should be smarter than this.


solved 20 Dec '11, 12:18

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In the UK context it may be worth looking at the midata programme which, although not much is only yet, has been exploring some of the issues around citizen access to commercially held data - not least asking questions around what belongs to the citizen/consumer, and what belongs to the company legitimately, and, though involvement of groups like Which in the steering group, exploring privacy implications for individuals when this data is widely released (e.g. important to guard against abuse of such rights to data if security procedures are not up to scratch; and to consider vulnerable individuals - e.g. individual in abusive relationship where partner might take advantage of easier access to records).

Like Paul, I'd suggest treading carefully here - and being clear whether the goal is to educate people about range of data held on them, or to pursue a midata vision of citizens using their data in different ways - and adopting a strategy appropriate to that.


solved 20 Dec '11, 20:29

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Tim Davies
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We have one in Germany: - very nice service, extremely popular!


solved 17 Jan, 15:30

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edited 17 Jan, 15:48

See also the OKFN IsItOpenData service which is partially modelled on MySociety's for making FoI requests. One attraction of FoI/WDTK is that there is a known contact who must reply. IN companies it is harder to know where to send such letters.


solved 17 Jan, 16:43

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I do not agree with those that call to be "careful here". At least in the EU, all the necessary policies are in place: if a company knowingly has data about you, you have the right to read and check that data, and ask to make changes if the information is incorrect.

The fact this happens only sporadically has no ethical or societal reasons (people do not hold back because prices might go up because of their actions, as people do not hold back to return goods with whom they are not happy with), but simply because is difficult to know 'how', as companies do currently not make this easily possible. If prices go up because of freeing up private data, then maybe companies should lower the prices for those that do not hold customer loyalty cards? Because, with this logic, it should be clear that people without loyalty cards are actually funding the discounts of those that have loyalty cards (as companies seemingly have to spend money to keep, manage and give back the data, yet those people actually enjoy the discounts).

The point is indeed that a non-governmental organization should step in and offer the knowledge for a lay person to receive his/her data (e.g. how-to tutorials on a company level), and create the tools to actually provide an understandable overview of this data (as surely the data will be given in a unintuitive format). Maybe there should be a platform at which people can compare their data with others. And a platform where people can offer their own data for sale. I trust this will happen, yet probably by a commercial initiative...?

I also like to point to following Guardian article: "Tim Berners-Lee: demand your data from Google and Facebook"


solved 26 Apr, 19:26

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Asked: 19 Dec '11, 20:18

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Last updated: 26 Apr, 19:26

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