Submissions indicate scope for Australia to improve data openness

Tyro Payments has warned in its submission made to the Productivity Commission that there is still room for improvement when it comes to data openness in Australia, which it believes will boost the country's global competitiveness.

The data of Australian consumers and businesses held on their behalf by financial institutions and third parties needs to be shared in order for the financial industry to remain globally competitive, according to Tyro Payments.

In its submission [PDF] to the Productivity Commission inquiry into data availability and use, Tyro Payments warned customers will continue to be "locked out" of having options to alternative financial services products and solutions such as alternative lenders, financial management, and payment services if the big banks retain control of customer transaction data.

In addition, ensuring open data will enable the public sector to drive innovation and competition through procurement of new products and services, as well open panels and APIs, the company wrote in its submission.

"Customer transaction data belongs to the customer. Banks should be forced to give their customers the right and the ability to share that data with third parties that are licensed under the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority or who have an Australian Financial Services Licence or an Australian Credit Licence," Tyro co-founder Andrew Rothwell said.

"By refusing to allow customers to make their data and accounts available to regulated third parties, banks will continue to control the snail's pace of innovation in Australia -- to the detriment of the Australian consumer."

Rothwell further pointed out giving open access to data will enable banks to become a "platform" for other services, including becoming part of Australia's growing fintech hub.

"Once fintech innovators have been granted permission to analyse, integrate, and share data as consumers see fit, they will unleash a vast wave of new products that will give consumers more choice, while increasing the value of their existing products," he said.

The submission by Tyro [PDF] is in response to the Productivity Commission's 12-month public inquiry into improving the availability and use of public and private sector data.

As part of the inquiry, the commission is examining the benefits and costs of making public and private datasets more available; considering the options for collecting, sharing, and releasing data; identifying ways consumers can use and benefit from access to data, particularly data about themselves; and considering how to preserve individual privacy and control over data use.

A total of nine submissions have been made to the Productivity Commission to date.

The Australian Dental Association (ADA) has outlined in its submission [PDF] that while open data has its advantages, such as the ability for the private healthcare sector to build and expand on reporting obligations private health insurers have to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, there are principles surrounding patient privacy, security, consent, and appropriateness that needs to be recognised and respected, including the opportunity for individuals to "opt out".

"Where possible, consultation about the provision of data and ideally consensus should be developed not only on an individual basis but sector, profession and industry wide," Rick Olive, ADA president, wrote in the submission.

"Particularly for data mining that is conducted for commercial purposes, the subjects from whom the data is being gathered, mined or shared need to have adequate 'buy in' so that they can see the tangible benefits they also receive as part of their participation with such initiatives.

Meanwhile, Phoensight, a data science consultancy firm, examined the supply of government open data and its usability in its submission [PDF]. It highlighted that if data is to be made openly available, it needs to be accessible via an API.

"Without an API, the process of extracting and ingesting the data becomes both cumbersome and expensive to maintain and considerably impacts the accessibility of the data. Further, if the API is poorly designed or limited in scope or implementation, undue cost is placed on developers, which increases the barrier to accessing open data," Phoensight said.

Based on data from the Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network (CKAN), Phoensight said that between 2010 and 2015, the total file size in the Australian government was 80GB and file counts was 20,309.

In addition, the CKAN indicated the Australian government has only released 17 percent of expected data. Phoensight said that based on this finding, there is more scope for the Australian government to realise its data potential, such as by leveraging existing partnerships or establishing new data-driven partnerships across different sectors.

"Australia's CKAN repository could be improved through adopting similar features to the UK and Singapore in terms of a simplified API and improved user experience," the submission said.

"Australia, being comparatively new to open data and having recently committed to participating in the international Open Government Partnership, has a lot more to gain in terms of releasing a larger volume of data with scores on quantity relative to GDP and landmass being the lowest of the five countries."

Similarly, the submission [PDF] from the Centre for International Finance and Regulation (CIFR) recommended improvements need to be made in how the public and private sector exchange data, saying that if there is not standardised systems and processes, there is a risk of "data balkanisation".

The CIFR also suggested a best-of-breed data architecture system needs to be established, with belief it will give researchers the ability to apply research questions to the Australian context.

The Productivity Commission is due to release a draft report in November 2016, and expects to hand a final inquiry report to the Australian government by March 2017.