Policy paper

7. Data - unlocking the power of data in the UK economy and improving public confidence in its use

Published 1 March 2017

Developments such as the rising use of social media and the increasing adoption of new technologies like the Internet of Things mean more data is being produced than ever before. At the same time, lower costs of collection, storage and processing - coupled with rising computing power - are making this data a rich raw material. This is creating new opportunities for business growth across all industry sectors, changing how we innovate, market, sell and consume services.

The UK is at the forefront of data innovation. The Data Protection Act 1998, which provides the legal framework for the use of personal data, is often cited as a global gold standard; we are a global leader at opening up public datasets to drive public services transformation, business growth and democratic engagement;1 our research community has world-class data scientists and high-performance computing facilities; and we have created an innovation environment that has fostered many successful data-driven companies many of whom use open data provided by the public sector as their raw material.

Data analytics is a fast moving area and we are committed to keeping the UK at the leading edge of new developments, whilst putting in place the necessary protections to ensure data is kept safe and used appropriately. To achieve this, we will:

  • encourage innovative uses of data by making it easier where possible to access and use data held by both government and businesses
  • work with business and education providers to strengthen data skills provision
  • create legal frameworks that keep pace with new data technologies, support the innovative use of data by business, and provide robust protection for people’s privacy rights
  • ensure data is used to its maximum potential within government to provide more efficient and responsive public services

Supporting the data economy

Our data economy will be integral to the UK’s growth and future prosperity. Analysis predicts that data will benefit the UK economy by up to £241 billion between 2015 and 2020.2 We therefore must ensure businesses and government are able to use data in innovative and effective ways. This includes creating a strong data infrastructure, having a high level of regulatory compliance, developing a data-literate workforce, and increasing the number of people with advanced data skills.

Data infrastructure

Data infrastructure refers to the assets, technology, processes, and organisations that not only create data, but open it up and allow it to be shared. It includes storage facilities, software tools, networks, cyber-security systems, and data-management platforms.

By strengthening our infrastructure we will create new opportunities for organisations to use data to produce market-changing new products and better public services. From easing travel congestion to enabling cheaper insurance, and from speeding up the development of new medicines to helping prevent crime, data has the potential to significantly improve people’s lives. This infrastructure is also integral to the successful development of technologies such as connected and autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and the Internet of Things.

Citymapper: Creating Value from Data

Citymapper is a smartphone app that provides journey planning information in a way that is comprehensive and intuitive.

Developed in London and launched in 2012, the app uses transport data released by the UK government and Greater London Authority public data platforms. By integrating multiple sources of data on London transport, Citymapper provides its users with a sophisticated view of how to travel to their destination.

The app combines information on different transport modes (bus, tube, taxi, walking, cycling) and factors (prices, journey duration, real-time delays, weather, and calorie burn) – understanding that people make travel decisions based on the whole journey environment. Citymapper displays this information through a clearly designed user interface. Compared to historical one-dimensional public transport maps, the app provides a modern real-time view of urban mobility.

Citymapper is part of a new generation of data-driven start-ups, and its success is partly due to the UK being one of the first countries to release open, real-time public transport data in 2010. This enabled the company to be an early mover in the transport app market.

It’s estimated that the app is now installed on half of the iPhones in London. The app is also used by millions of people in cities such New York, Paris and Berlin.

Data held by business

Many businesses could make better use of the data they hold. Not only will this boost the data economy, but it will deliver significant benefits to the businesses themselves. For example, a 2014 study of the global financial services market found that firms in the sector that use predictive data analytics were able to achieve an 11% increase in customers and a 10% increase in new opportunities.3

Effective use of data can create £66 billion of new business and innovation opportunities in the UK,4 yet international studies show that the vast majority of existing datasets are nowhere near fully exploited, with most companies surveyed estimating that they are analysing just 12% of their data.5

To support industry in unlocking value from data, we will work with organisations such as the Open Data Institute to create an environment to open up customers’ data across more sectors through the use of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). This will help the development of innovative new applications, such as dashboards that bring together household bills, or tools that could automatically switch consumers to the cheapest energy deal based on their preferences and actual usage. The UK is the first country to start work on developing an Open Banking API that uses data to provide helpful information to consumers when using banking services.

We will continue to support organisations that are helping businesses to realise the potential of the data they hold. This includes working with organisations like the Catapult Centres to develop initiatives such as the Digital Catapult and Knowledge Transfer Network Personal Data and Trust Network.

It is also important that customers are given improved access to their data. The midata programme, launched in 2011, brought together business, consumer and privacy groups in a scheme to give consumers access to portable and electronic formats of data held about them by companies. Giving consumers access to their personal data in this safe and secure way enables them to make more informed choices on the products and services they buy and gives companies opportunities to innovate, creating further growth in the digital economy.

Sharing data across countries

The stability of data transfer is important for many sectors – from financial services, to tech, to energy companies. EU rules support data flows amongst Member States. For example, the EU data protection framework outlines the rights of EU citizens, as well as the obligations to which companies must adhere when processing and transferring data.

The referendum result therefore raises important questions for companies in the UK that want to share data across international boundaries, in particular with the 27 other countries of the EU. We recognise the importance of the UK maintaining strong data protection laws and safeguards to ensure that businesses and services can continue to operate across international borders.

The UK will therefore implement the General Data Protection Regulation by May 2018. This will ensure a shared and higher standard of protection for consumers and their data across Europe and beyond.

As part of our plans for the UK’s exit from the EU, we will be seeking to ensure that data flows remain uninterrupted, and will be considering all the available options that will provide legal certainty for businesses and individuals alike.

Improving data skills

As the global digital economy grows, all leading economies are seeing a major increase in the demand not just for digital skills, but for a wide range of specialist data skills. Four out of five companies are struggling to find the talent they need6 and two thirds of data-driven companies have experienced difficulty in filling at least one vacancy when they have tried to recruit data analysts.7 This shortage of data talent has direct and serious economic implications, and addressing this shortfall should therefore be a strategic priority.

In recognition of the importance of data handling and data analytical skills to the digital economy, the government will work with the industry-led Data Skills Taskforce to help implement key elements of the Analytic Britain report produced by Nesta and Universities UK, which provides a number of proposals to raise levels of data analysis education and skills provision in the UK.

Building public trust

Recent studies by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) show that only one in four UK adults currently trusts businesses with their personal information.8 If the UK is to benefit fully from the economic and social gains of data, the public needs to know that their personal data is safe and used responsibly.

Government and business must maintain the confidence and trust of those who provide us with their data: that it will be kept safe and secure; that it be handled legally, responsibly, and ethically; that we will be open and transparent about what data we are using and why; and that strict penalties will apply for misuse.

Supporting people’s data rights and responsibilities

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), government, and consumer protection groups have worked hard to encourage people to take responsibility for their own data, particularly in the online environment.

Whilst we must have robust legal frameworks to ensure organisations use data appropriately, we also need people to play their part in keeping their information secure.

The ICO website contains a range of clear advice and information for individuals on their privacy rights and on actions they can take to keep their information safe.

The government will continue to support the work of the ICO and others who help people make informed decisions about how, when, and with whom they share their data.

Ethical frameworks for the use of data

Several businesses have already established their own ethics boards or advisory councils on the use of data, and there is a developing body of academic work in this field. In May 2016, the Cabinet Office published the Ethical Framework for Data Science, highlighting relevant principles and best practice guidance for civil servants.

The Royal Society and British Academy are leading a review of existing data governance frameworks in the UK that will produce its report later this year. This report will provide valuable analysis as we take forward our work looking at how businesses and new technologies can maximise the potential of data, while ensuring appropriate safeguards for citizens. We look forward to the findings of the review, and will consider them carefully.

Emerging issues

As technology evolves and the amount of personal data that is collected increases, there will inevitably be new issues with the way it is being used. The government is committed to ensuring that our laws on data protection respond to the dramatic pace of change in the digital field, and that innovation with personal data is ethical and responsible.

Data which had been legitimately collected and stored with all personal identifiers removed might be knowingly or deliberately de-anonymised, risking individuals’ confidentiality. The impact of this is particularly acute in a health and care context, where personal data can be very sensitive. That is why we will review the data protection offences, and introduce stronger sanctions for deliberate and negligent re-identification of anonymised data. It is essential that the regulator has effective powers and that sanctions are a deterrent to the misuse of data.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an evolving technology that can be broadly described as “a set of statistical tools and algorithms that combine to form, in part, intelligent software that specialises in a single area or task. This type of software is an evolving assemblage of technologies that enable computers to simulate elements of human behaviour such as learning, reasoning and classification”.9

AI is particularly useful for sorting data, finding patterns and making predictions. Current examples of its use include translation and speech recognition services that learn from language online, search engines that rank websites on their relevance to the user, and filters for email spam that recognise junk mail based on previous examples.

This creative capacity gives AI enormous potential, but it also challenges some of our assumptions about the role of computers and our relationship with them. As the use of AI increases, we need to carefully consider how to ensure that the technology is not producing outcomes that discriminate unfairly or make judgmental, prejudicial or dangerous decisions. We must ensure citizens and businesses can trust the outcomes of processes that use AI technology.

In November 2016, the Government Office for Science published its ‘Artificial Intelligence: opportunities and implications for the future of decision making’ report which sets out where this technology is heading and describes some of the implications for society and government. The Royal Society and British Academy are also currently looking at how the UK can effectively manage the use of AI. The Government will consider carefully the findings of these two studies which will complement, but remain separate from, the review into how we can create the conditions for the artificial intelligence industry to thrive and grow in the UK.

Using government data effectively

Government is one of the biggest data businesses in the UK. Data is fundamental to what we do and vast quantities of data are collected, analysed and used every day. Advances in digital technology, cloud-based computing and data science open up huge opportunities to improve the effectiveness and precision of government policy interventions by using data more effectively. Furthermore, improving the way we collect, manage and share government data has the potential to deliver significant efficiency gains right across the economy.

Managing government data

Government data is generated and stored across departments, agencies, teams and areas of expertise. If government is to make services work smoothly and seamlessly for citizens, we need to put in place the infrastructure to enable the right information to be available to the right part of government at the right time.

We will create a linked ecosystem of trusted, resilient and accessible canonical datastores (known as registers) of core reference data. These registers will make government data easier to create, maintain, and put to use. To encourage their use in the public sector and beyond we will introduce a range of products and tools to make their application as straight-forward as possible. We will appoint a new Chief Data Officer for government to lead on use of data.

We must also earn and retain the trust of citizens and provide reassurance that personal and sensitive data is treated safely, securely and ethically within appropriate governance frameworks and with appropriate respect for privacy.

The government will therefore lead by example on using data responsibly and in extracting maximum value from data to create better services for citizens and better policy making. In May 2016 we published a Data Science Ethical Framework to provide guidance to civil servants on the ethical use of data within government. To build on this we will:

  • aim to collect data once and use it many times - reducing the respondent burden for citizens and businesses
  • make it clear and transparent why we are sharing data, how and what the benefits of this sharing are
  • make data open where this is possible
  • share anonymised data for research purposes for the public good

Opening up government data

The true potential of data can only be harnessed if it is open for use by others. The UK leads the world in open data, and the government is committed to building on this and being open by default. All official statistics are now published under the open government licence and we have made over 40,000 government datasets available through our data.gov.uk web-portal.

We also lead the world in the quality of our openly available geospatial data and we will continue to support innovators and businesses to use this data. This includes through the Ordnance Survey’s GeoVation programme which runs competitions to help entrepreneurs use geospatial data and technology to develop their ideas, and provides a Hub where new start-ups can access desk-space, mentoring, and legal and professional support.

But government still holds data that could be opened up for researchers, campaigners, established companies and entrepreneurs to use. It is our ambition to ensure data is shared wherever appropriate. This will help businesses and government to innovate, generate maximum economic value and help create new digital products and services that enhance citizens’ lives.

We will ensure that, where appropriate, data can be shared across organisational boundaries within the public sector. Through the Digital Economy Bill, we will modernise legislation to enable data access for defined public interest purposes within government. This will allow government to improve the lives of citizens who are in need of support through better targeted services. It will also improve the operation of government by enabling us to tackle fraud and debt more effectively, and by facilitating the production of timely and accurate national statistics.

Where this is already taking place, significant benefits are being realised. For example, HM Passport Office and DVLA have helped to ease the process for driving licence and passport applications by reusing, with user consent, data such as signatures and photo images that citizens have already provided to either organisation.

We will also work with key stakeholders, such as the Open Data Institute, to open up more government data to external organisations than ever before. We will deliver better services and drive innovation by ensuring the use of high quality, authoritative data across the economy.