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Google joins UK identity assurance scheme Midata

Google is among 26 companies to have signed up to 'Midata', a UK government initiative that critics see as an attempt to kickstart a UK business sector peddling personal data at best - and at worst, an attempt to sneak in an electronic ID card system by the back door.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills today launched Midata today, claiming that the scheme will make data handling more transparent. From 2012, it says, UK consumers would be able to access personal information held by the likes of British Gas, RBS, npower, MasterCard and Google via online 'personal data inventories' (PDIs).

But in a document outlining the "potential benefits" to business of the scheme, the BIS hinted that midata is actually aimed at getting users to part with more data:

"As customers get used to updating and managing preferences and permissions, they are more likely to opt in rather than out of marketing communications," the documents states.

"Under the government's proposed ID assurance scheme, a market for providers of identity services will be created. Individuals will be able to take these 'tokens of identity' with them from organisation to organisation," said the BIS.

"The same approach can be extended to other tokens of verification, for example that this person 'has this credit score', or 'is entitled to these benefits'. These tokens can reduce risk and streamline sales processes."

Critics condemn the scheme as an attempt by government to offload the business of indentity verification on to the private sector - effectively creating a national ID scheme, without the card.

Addressing these concerns, the BIS stated: "Midata will not create any central databases or data portals.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham plans to keep an eye on the new scheme to ensure it operates within current data protection law.

"It goes without saying that privacy and data security principles must continue to be upheld and I'm pleased that consumer data security has been a key strand from the outset," said Graham. "I look forward to continuing to work with the government and businesses to ensure the scheme complies with the Data Protection Act."