December 6, 2017 4:11 am JST

Japan eyes easy consumer access to personal data

Portability plans for 2020s seen aiding fair competition among service providers

Japan intends to create a system that grants individuals access to data stored by companies in a range of industries.

TOKYO -- Japan looks to ensure that individuals have access to their personal data collected by businesses, seeking to prevent information from being isolated by a few companies and also promote the development of new services.

The country's trade and communications ministries aim to have such a system operating in the 2020s. An expert panel will propose a data portability framework within this fiscal year designed to allow easy transfer of such information from one storage environment to another at an individual's request.

The ministries hope to include these recommendations when discussing potential revisions to Japan's internet privacy law in 2020. The experts also will draft sample wording for the user policies of online services and debate topics such as whether to encourage industry groups to create independent rules.

Data for all

Businesses often use big data to create popular products and services that allow them to gather even more information and strengthen their dominant position. But this lopsided concentration of data also can harm users, discourage new businesses and limit cooperation between companies.

Aware of such problems, the European Union plans to enact data portability laws starting in 2018. Japan is moving to establish its own framework to foster fairer competition.

The ministries are considering a system that lets individuals request email and calendar data collected by companies such as Google as well as phone records and photos. The data would be aggregated and delivered to the individual through a commonly used, tabular format.

In addition to internet companies, the framework would cover a wide range of fields like savings and electronic money records from financial institutions, medical histories from hospitals as well as energy usage data from power companies.

If a customer could access and transfer savings data and credit card histories from financial institutions in a simple format, the information may be more readily used in a money management app developed by a financial technology company, for example.

Google already operates a framework that lets users download email, photos, travel history and other data in a compressed file. But most major companies, including other internet giants, lack such a system.

The next step to encourage data portability among fields would involve common technical standards for the data to promote interoperability. But "asking that of companies is too much," said Tetsuya Oi, a lawyer at TMI Associates familiar with the field. "Giving users data in a tabular format is more realistic."

Developing guidelines

Japan's trade ministry is busy creating a business environment for the big data age. The ministry soon will work to devise contract guidelines for sharing customer data among companies by defining usage rights as well as draft model contracts to decide how proceeds should be shared, among other standards.

But Japan is unlikely to let individuals demand that companies delete data, since it is considered technologically difficult to completely erase such information. Even the European Union, a pioneer in data protection from third parties such as social media sites, has yet to fully enshrine this right. Yet the EU will grant the right to ask companies to delete unnecessary personal data, as the movement to put private information back into individual hands spreads.

(Nikkei)

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