London Evening Standard Article: Companies are taking our data and ripping us off

There are many ways in which capitalism isn’t working for an awful lot of us, and it matters. I’ve written a policy paper about it. In A Shining City Upon a Hill; Rebooting Capitalism for the Many, Not the Few, I argue that every aspect of the system needs a radical rethink.

And one of the biggest changes we should be thinking about is in the ways our data is used. Every time we click “accept”, because it’s the only way to access a bit of free wi-fi, we’re signing away our personal information. It means companies, charities and bureaucracies know more about us than ever. Not just confidential information such as bank details, but also commercially useful stuff about our likes and dislikes.

Knowledge is power, so every time they learn more about us, it gives them an edge. Sometimes it’s positive, because they know whether you or I like an aisle seat, or a pink jersey, or custard, without having to ask. That’s how the new digital economy can be so wonderfully convenient.

But sometimes it’s negative because it makes us easier to exploit. Not just through online scams and frauds trying to access our bank accounts, but because they know whether we’re likely to shop around or not. And if we’re not, they can charge us higher prices than our neighbours for exactly the same thing. Energy firms exploit us this way. So do insurers and phone and broadband companies.

We must take back control of our data so that businesses and bureaucracies can’t take us for granted. First, we need tough new competition laws to protect us from being ripped off: the current ones were written in 1998, before Google, Facebook, Amazon or Uber.

We need to own our own data so we can share it with, or refuse access to, whoever we want. Now’s the time to tilt the playing field back towards citizen-consumers, and away from big businesses and bureaucracies and to make the customer call the shots again, so that capitalism works for the many, not the few.

But reforming data law is only part of a much bigger picture. Wage growth has been pathetic for most people, while oligarchs and bankers have got incredibly rich. Essentials such as housing, energy, water and transport don’t work properly, or are incredibly expensive.

Reform has to be far-reaching to make Britain generationally fairer for everyone under 45 with a UK Sovereign Wealth Fund. We also need to restore capitalism’s moral legitimacy by throwing out corrupt oligarchs and kleptocrats and reforming our taxes so the “haves” aren’t subsidised by the “have-nots”. We’ve got to modernise our economy so everyone has a stake in its success, not just a few of us.

That way, we’ll be ready for the new, hyper-competitive digital world once we’ve left the EU.

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