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Firms Could Be Forced To Reveal Consumer Data

(c) Sky News 2012

Businesses are under pressure to join a scheme to give consumers data they gather about them on their shopping habits.

Ministers are preparing laws which will force companies to disclose personal information to consumers if they request it.

The move, which would involve the details being handed over in a "machine-readable" format, could help families improve and change their purchasing choices.

Mobile phone and energy companies would provide information on a customer's usage, so they could shop around for the best deal without repeated form-filling.

Receipts and warranties would be stored electronically, avoiding the need to locate paper copies when an item needs to be returned or repaired.

And details of bank and credit card accounts would all be in one place, meaning people could keep an eye on their income and outgoings more easily.

So far, 20 companies in the energy, finance and telecoms sectors have signed up to the Government's voluntary "midata" scheme, including Lloyds TSB (LSE: LLOY.L - news) bank, British Gas and Google (NasdaqGS: GOOG - news) .

But no major supermarkets have joined, even though they are thought to be the biggest users of customer data for marketing strategies.

They hold information on eating habits, personal finances and weekly schedules through loyalty cards and sophisticated data tracking systems.

Releasing data about food shopping could allow families to get better deals. They would be able to compare the prices of different items charged in different branches of their supermarket as well as monitor the nutritional value of their shopping.

The Government's Behavioural Insights Team, whose research led to the "midata" access plan, found that the best way of convincing people to make changes was to give them more data about their own choices.

Jo Swinson, the Consumer Affairs Minister, said: "Many businesses reap huge commercial benefits from the information they gather from consumers' daily spending patterns.

"Why shouldn't consumers also benefit from this by having access to their own data?"