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Australian government working with industry to develop standardised APIs for making data easily available to consumers

Australian government working with industry to develop standardised APIs for making data easily available to consumers

In a speech at Data Transparency 2017 in Washington last week, the Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation, the Hon Angus Taylor MP said that the Australian government is working with industry to develop a standardised set of APIs that must make data easily available to consumers and their agreed third party advocates. This is the government’s response to the Productivity Commission’s report on Data Availability and Use, released in May this year.

The idea is that consumers/ citizens can own their own data. The standards will be specific to each industry and will typically include usage history, pricing and package information.

The development of the standardised APIs is one aspect of government intervention to implement a Universal Data Right.

Assistant Minister Taylor said, "I do believe that the market is best left to its own devices whenever you can. But there are occasions where the Government can play a crucial role. And I am convinced that customer ownership, citizen ownership of data, and access to a common digital identity for businesses and citizens is one of those areas where government intervention can have an enormous impact."

He said that in financial services, energy and telecommunications, as well as the provision of public services like health and education, consumers are struggling, with a proliferation of plans and high barriers, to switch between providers.

Therefore, access to open standardised data and a common understanding of digital identity could be enablers of regulatory reform and competition policy in today’s digital economy. They would enable consumers to act as regulators. Greater access to data and reduced switching costs will facilitate increased choice, better services and reduced outlays for all Australians. 

For instance, energy users owning their own data could make comparisons of available energy plans using their own historical usage data through third party applications.

But in practice, customers need to establish their identity with each new service provider, deters many people from switching. So, the second aspect of the government intervention would be the creation of an easily accessible and fraud-proof digital identity.

The standardised APIs can be combined with a government-facilitated digital identity that allows providers to accept pre-established identities with high levels of integrity. There would be no more need for many usernames and passwords to access services.

"These initiatives are the bedrock that will allow any consumer to access a service better suited to them in a matter of minutes, and with little hassle. As someone who has focused on competition policy for much of my career, this is a massive breakthrough, offering customers and businesses, I think, enormous benefits," Assistant Minister Taylor said.

In his speech, he also talked about reducing Australian companies' regulatory compliance costs by more than AU$1 billion per year; (AU$1.2b in FY2016 and AU$1.4b in FY2017) through automation.

The idea is that multiple regulatory agencies can adopt a single open data structure for the information they collect from companies, which means that the companies can report quickly and simply, direct from their accounting systems.

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