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ODI: Smart data promise could founder against paywalls

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ODI: Smart data promise could founder against paywalls

The Open Data Institute’s Mahlet Zimeta examines the government’s smart data plan, which could boost competition and empower the public, but needs to be set up to allow rapid creation of new markets without barriers

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  • Mahlet Zimeta

Published: 23 Aug 2022

With the publication of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, the UK government has come good on its promise to reassess the regulation of personal data post-Brexit. The headline items being pushed by the government focus heavily on stopping nuisance calls and texts, as well as the much-vaunted removal of many cookie pop-ups used to gain consent for audience tracking.

The stated motivation for the introduction of new data legislation and plans is to “unleash innovation” and “reduce burdens on businesses”, with small businesses being targeted as one of the main beneficiaries of the move to slash what is seen as unnecessary red tape and regulation. But some of what the Bill proposes could actually disadvantage innovative startups and small enterprises, rather than aid them.

On the face of it, the introduction of the concept of “Smart Data schemes” – which would be set up to allow the secure, consented sharing of customer data with third parties – sounds like an exciting move towards innovation in data infrastructure. These schemes appear to mirror the equitable market access principles, as well as the potential for the economic growth and the practical success of Open Banking, the initiative that the Open Data Institute (ODI) initiated with HM Treasury in 2015.

This was enabled by the Competition and Markets Authority mandating the UK’s nine largest banks (CMA 9) to cooperate when customers request that their financial data be shared with third parties, be they other banks or third-party apps, such as accounting software.

The new Smart Data scheme also seems to share some of Open Banking’s characteristics across other sectors, with mortgages, savings and pensions being lined up as possible next use cases. But the small print allows companies holding data to effectively install a paywall into the equation.

This means that a plucky startup wanting to use the run data from your sports watch, or a broadband company or pay TV service trying to work out the best package for you based on your previous use patterns, would have to pay the holder of your data for the privilege of that data portability.

That cost would, most likely, be passed on to the consumer, raising the costs for new businesses while advantaging established brands that hold data. This incumbent advantage effectively nullifies the innovation’s ability to break up data monopolies and give a hand-up to SMEs, startups, charities and microbusinesses.

That said, the setting up of the secure data infrastructure for Smart Data obviously has a cost. If Smart Data were to follow the secure innovation-inspiring data-sharing model of Open Banking, then it would need to be initially be funded by Whitehall (with Open Banking’s costs currently funded by the CMA 9 to the tune of around £30m a year).

Today’s economic realities are somewhat different from those of 2015, but I firmly believe that a lack of investment now could lead to a restriction of growth later on. The government has previously spoken of worries over SMEs being locked out of the data business boom, negatively impacting the economy. But to provide a platform for innovation with financial barriers would do just this.

With lack of funding comes a lack of a central coordination mechanism for Smart Data, which could also lead to the schemes not being able to live up to their promise. The interoperability of portable data depends on how that data is structured or curated, or its data standards. So, a system where the larger players set their own data standards and APIs (application programming interfaces) means you risk creating a data-sharing model that could throw up endless incompatibilities, which would once again disadvantage smaller businesses.

Innovations such as Smart Data should encourage an end to the kind of format and language battles that separate Apple and Windows, rather than risk encouraging them in the name of protectionism and financial advantages.

Smart Data could and should be a great way to strengthen competition and empower the public when it comes to both the use and the value of their personal data, but it needs to be set up to allow the rapid creation of new markets and new services without technical or financial barriers to market entry.

After all, it is the personal data of users that has created much of the value in tech companies, so it seems aberrant to impose a charge when those customers wish to use that data elsewhere. Equitable market access would allow for levelling-up across the tech sector.

It is great that the government sees data sharing as an integral part of the innovation in, and growth of, our economy, but I hope that changes might be made when the Bill is considered by Parliament in the autumn. Open data initiatives such as Smart Data have the potential to foster an environment of innovation where new products and services can be inspired by, and built on, existing data.

This could be the space where new green initiatives are discovered, where business learns to better serve diverse communities and where individuals are able to connect with services that can help with multiple issues across addiction, debt and mental health.

But ensuring data interoperability and not advantaging those with the deepest pockets and largest datasets must be a priority to ensure that creative thinking, enterprise and societal benefits are to the fore. Without such considerations, the UK data economy risks being held back, rather than being ahead of the pack.

Mahlet Zimeta is head of public policy at the Open Data Institute.





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USB logos finally make sense, thanks to a redesign

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USB logos finally make sense, thanks to a redesign


Author: Mark Hachman
, Senior Editor

As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.

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Cheaper OLED monitors might be coming soon

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Cheaper OLED monitors might be coming soon


Author: Michael Crider
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New Pixel Watch leak reveals watch faces, strap styles and more

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New Pixel Watch leak reveals watch faces, strap styles and more
Google Pixel watch



The Google Pixel Watch is incoming
(Image credit: Google)

We’re expecting the Google Pixel Watch to make its full debut on Thursday, October 6 – alongside the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 7 Pro – but in the meantime a major leak has revealed much more about the upcoming smartwatch.

Seasoned tipster @OnLeaks (opens in new tab) has posted the haul, which shows off some of the color options and band styles that we can look forward to next week. We also get a few shots of the watch interface and a picture of it being synced with a smartphone.

Watch faces are included in the leak too, covering a variety of different approaches to displaying the time – both in analog and digital formats. Another image shows the watch being used to take an ECG reading to assess heartbeat rate.

Just got my hands on a bunch of #Google #PixelWatch promo material showing all color options and Watch Bands for the first time. Some details revealed as well…@Slashleaks 👉🏻 https://t.co/HzbWeGGSKP pic.twitter.com/N0uiKaKXo0October 1, 2022

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Full colors

If the leak is accurate, then we’ve got four silicone straps on the way: black, gray, white, and what seems to be a very pale green. Leather straps look to cover black, orange, green and white, while there’s also a fabric option in red, black and green.

We already know that the Pixel Watch is going to work in tandem with the Fitbit app for logging all your vital statistics, and included in the leaked pictures is an image of the Pixel Watch alongside the Fitbit app running on an Android phone.

There’s plenty of material to look through here if you can’t wait until the big day – and we will of course be bringing you all the news and announcements as the Google event unfolds. It gets underway at 7am PT / 10am ET / 3pm BST / 12am AEDT (October 7).


Analysis: a big moment for Google

It’s been a fair while since Google launched itself into a new hardware category, and you could argue that there’s more riding on the Pixel Watch than there is on the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro – as Google has been making phones for years at this point.

While Wear OS has been around for a considerable amount of time, Google has been leaving it to third-party manufacturers and partners to make the actual hardware. Samsung recently made the switch back to Wear OS for the Galaxy Watch 5 and the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, for example.

Deciding to go through with its own smartwatch is therefore a big step, and it’s clear that Google is envious of the success of the Apple Watch. It’s the obvious choice for a wearable for anyone who owns an iPhone, and Google will be hoping that Pixel phones and Pixel Watches will have a similar sort of relationship.

What’s intriguing is how Fitbit fits in – the company is now run by Google, but so far we haven’t seen many signs of the Fitbit and the Pixel lines merging, even if the Pixel Watch is going to come with support for the Fitbit app.

Dave is a freelance tech journalist who has been writing about gadgets, apps and the web for more than two decades. Based out of Stockport, England, on TechRadar you’ll find him covering news, features and reviews, particularly for phones, tablets and wearables. Working to ensure our breaking news coverage is the best in the business over weekends, David also has bylines at Gizmodo, T3, PopSci and a few other places besides, as well as being many years editing the likes of PC Explorer and The Hardware Handbook.

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