The Digital Catapult Really Screwing up Trust about Personal Data

Executive Summary

In publishing a report about how organisations need to build trust with the public about the storage and use of their Personal Data, the Digital Catapult has done almost all the classic things to undermine that trust.
And they even missed a great opportunity – the research suggests that if an organisation does screw up, and then comes clean and corrects things, it ends up with a higher level of trust than if they hadn’t screwed up in the first place.
But they didn’t.

Now read on if you wish…

Wendy tweeted about a new report:

Wendy Hall ‏@DameWendyDBE 1d1 day ago
#PDTReview has been launched today by @DigiCatapult! Get the report here:

I though it might be interesting, so I followed to find that it was called “TRUST IN PERSONAL DATA: A UK REVIEW”. When I finally got the report, it turned out it says things like “We must build consumer trust or risk future failure” and “Building trust in the use of personal data is the responsibility of every digital stakeholder in the UK”.
However, I get ahead of myself: in order to get it, I was required to fill in a short form, giving my names, email, organisation and the organisation type (as mandatory fields).
Like many people (apparently, when I read the report), I choose to be careful about where my personal information goes. And it seemed to me that there was no reason why the Digital Catapult should need more than my email address, even if it did decide that it was not going to make the PDF available for download, but only by personal request over email.
So I tweeted:

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser Jul 29
@DigiCatapult Can I get a copy of #PDTReview without giving you my Personal Data please?

So far, disappointing, but OK.
Now the screw up starts:

Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult Jul 29
@hughglaser Thanks for tweet. We ask anyone wishing to download the report to fill in a few fields so we can get the report to them swiftly.

Yup, “swiftly”!
Good practice to have a prompt response, but I can recognise a classic case of making up an answer, just to get rid of me. 🙂 This is known as flimflam or flannel by support staff. Like “Your database is running slowly because it is the wrong colour, we are repainting for the next release, so it will be better.” (cf
But actually, this is displaying a lack of respect – the public aren’t fools.
So now I’m hooked!

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser Jul 29
@DigiCatapult Huh? Swiftly?!!! My Organisation? Why not a PDF download link? It smells like you are actually touting to get a DB of people.

Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult Jul 29
@hughglaser For clarity, we are not keeping a DB unless people opt-in. Equally happy to share report with you via non sign in. Please DM.

(Opt-in: There is a tick box on the page that invites people to sign up for a Network.)
But come on! This is more flimflammed flannel. No answer to why the “swiftly”. And why am I typing if it doesn’t get kept. Again, the public aren’t fools. And don’t take me for one. I know you are keeping the data – just own up to it!

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser Jul 29
@DigiCatapult Thanks, may do. But hang on: if I don’t tick the box, you don’t keep anything I type? So why ask? And it says “SIGN UP…”.

Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult Jul 29
@hughglaser Thanks for your feedback Hugh. We’ve amended the page so people can fill in details if they so wish, rather than ‘sign up’.

Classic! I’m not going to fix the bug – I’ll change the documentation – any Software Engineer worth their salt recognises that one. They did change it, so the page says “FILL IN…” instead of “SIGN UP…”.
And what is this “if they so wish” – more noise words of flimflam and flannel – there is no other option I can see.

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser Jul 29
@DigiCatapult Sorry to be a bear with a sore head, but I’m still not making sense of this. What does “if they so wish” mean.

Now, there does seem to be some deeper investigating in order, so I went to the page and gave it my details and got the email with the report – and very interesting reading it is too.
At the same time, I emailed:

Subject: Personal Data Request
Please can you tell me what personal details you hold about me, as specified in section 1.7 of
Thank you.

Within an hour (well done!) I got a lovely response, which I won’t quote because it was in email. But in there it said that they had my name, email, business name and organisation type – exactly the same details that I was being told aren’t being kept!
This needed a private response, I think – although these are really important issues, I had no wish to cause any serious embarrassment on twitter. It was something that the Digital Catapult should get the chance to put right, so it was an email back:

Subject: Re: personal data request
Dear xxxxx,
Many thanks for your swift and detailed response.
I appreciate an organisation that can do this - on the rare occasions I have done asked others, some of them simply fail!
Unfortunately, your response tells me that the person who does your twitter feed has basically lied to me:
Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult 5h5 hours ago @hughglaser For clarity, we are not keeping a DB unless people opt-in. Equally happy to share report with you via non sign in. Please DM.
OK, it may be that the data you have is not in a real “DB", but in principle you have a problem here.
I clearly have a problem with your report being used to get personal data about people.
The deep, deep irony is that it is undermining trust in exactly the way the report says should be built up.
How should we resolve this?
Is your twitter feed going to give some honest and clear answers?

In the meantime, the next day I had no response to my question on Twitter, so I asked again:

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser 8h8 hours ago
@DigiCatapult What does “if they so wish” mean? Is there another option if they don’t want to?

To which there was a swift response:

Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult Jul 30
@hughglaser Hi Hugh, you can now directly access the review here:

That’s good!
But it isn’t really what we need by now.
Any trust I might have had in the Digital Catapult has been completely undermined.
What went wrong?
Will it go wrong again?
Should I not expect an apology?
Later, I got a response to my email. It was very nice, inviting me to join the network and asking if I wanted my details removed. But it was also rather disappointing, in that it suggested that what were effectively the lies I had been told about the Digital Catapult keeping my Personal Data were because of the limitations of 140 characters in Twitter, and that the DB issue was because it was a different, “marketing” DB.
Oh dear – more flimflam and flannel.

Thanks xxxxx,
Just a quick question before I respond at more length, please:
I think blaming the 140 is a bit disingenuous: "For clarity, we are not keeping a DB unless people opt-in.” is pretty unequivocal.
So what is the scope and purpose of the DB that you found my data in?

I also sent a message asking what is the scope and purpose of the DB that I am in.

So, coming to an end…
I exchanged a few more email,and then had a chat on the phone.
As best I see it:
The Digital Catapult wants/needs to report to the funding body what interactions they have with companies. So they gather the sort of information above. It is disturbing, because they don’t seem to think that this is “using” the information (it’s not for marketing, in particular). In fact, I am now really rather disturbed that the Digital Catapult, which has just issued a report relating to Personal Data, have significant people who actually don’t understand Data Protection, and the related regulations. We discussed how the Terms and Conditions could be improved to reflect this situation.

I asked for an apology on Twitter for taking me for a fool (at which point it felt like the call had become distinctly frosty 🙂 Or maybe it was because I mentioned I would blog about it.)

Now it is time to leave it – maybe they have learned something!

One lesson – make sure that the person on your twitter feed is technically savvy, or at least understands when they need to get advice.

Some more lessons?
Don’t take the public fools and just fudge things with brush off messages and flimflam, and when you make a mistake, come clean as soon as possible; oh, and apologise for it.
This is serious stuff – it was worth the Digital Catapult spending money to write a report about it!
And perhaps even paying Experian money to gather data, although that isn’t clear.
And, of course, “Oh the Irony!” That this should happen about a report on Trust and Personal Data!

New Apple Keyboard

So the new Apple keyboard has got the character engraving ever so slightly offset to the right, and maybe a bit up too.

And the engravings don’t even align along the bottom properly – keys like “J”, “G”, “6” and “2” are slightly lower than the others in the row.

How do you manage to break something like that!

Open Data Projects that Don’t Make Their Data Open

Sounds bizarre, but it seems to be the norm.

The very people who are at the forefront of consuming Open Data, funded by my tax money, almost always fail to make the fruits of their labours available as Open Data in their turn.

Let’s see: You get some public funds to build a demonstrator that shows how great Open Data is.

So you go away and harvest all sorts of data from a variety of sources (both easy and hard), and then add lots of value by linking it together and then synthesising new values and providing new insights.

Then hopefully in some time that corresponds to the proposal timescales, you launch your wizzo site, with fancy visualisations and everything. You get the loud praise and tweets from the great and good saying how this demonstrates how great Open Data is.


I come along with a little email asking if I can please have the data (so that I can use it for and other stuff I have that is set up to use the Open Data food chain).

I then get the standard response: “Ah, yes, we intend to make the data public, but <fill in a reason here />, and give us just a little time.”

Following that, I usually wait a few weeks or months, and then ask again. I might get another response along the same lines. I will probably ask another 2 or 3 times over the course of the next year or so, sometimes getting a response, but then decide that the data is probably too old now to be of interest, and I am wasting my time in any case because it ain’t going to happen. (It is unlikely that the original project actually included a real plan for keeping the application up to date by refreshing the data, or that the technology is actually able to do that.)

The point that anyone working in Open Data knows is that if you don’t build in the mechanisms and technology from the start to make data open, then grafting it on at the end is hard, expensive, unreliable, and various other bad words. So why don’t people put it in the proposal, and why don’t the funders require it to be part of the projects?

And the worst thing is that sometimes you hear the people who have done these projects (that are essentially data sinks) actually complaining that they couldn’t get data they wanted for their project from some other source!

Now ain’t that hypocritical?!

I would actually prefer it, by the way, if the response to my request for the data was more along the lines of, well we built a demonstrator, and we aren’t going to make the data open. There are actually quite a few sensible reasons for doing that.

Right, I’m off to think about which of my datasets is Open… 🙂

Misquoting Harold Wilson’s “White Heat” speech

Usually Harold Wilson’s famous 1963 speech is quoted as something like Britain needed to be forged in the white heat of technology, or technological revolution.

Both of these are wrong.

I think Wikiquote has it right:
“In all our plans for the future, we are re-defining and we are re-stating our Socialism in terms of the scientific revolution. But that revolution cannot become a reality unless we are prepared to make far-reaching changes in economic and social attitudes which permeate our whole system of society. The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry.”

Why rewrite science to technology? Wilson knew about technology, but he chose science. And his audience would have understood the word at that time.

A good and honest short quote for this might be “forged in the white heat of this [scientific] revolution”.

It is a powerful view, given by Wilson, that it is the scientific revolution and the science that drives the world, and enables the technology, and it is the science that should be supported, and certainly not just the technology.

We can only assume that people who misquote are being deliberately mendacious or simply ignorant.

And it is a shame in this world of technology and Web Science that we lose the import of the middle sentence: that we need to be prepared to make far-reaching changes in economic and social attitudes.

LinkedIn results on Google

Where to start with LinkedIn?

Well this is specific – the Google results.

I want to find someone’s personal or work page, and I put in their name, and get the first half a dozen results of different LinkedIn pages for people with that name (or another!). And none of them give much information if you click on them – they all ask you to sign up to LinkedIn in the hope of actually getting the details you want.

I now have a shortcut:, which helps a bit – maybe I need to add to it…

And another thing – online bills crappy file names

So when I finally download the file, I get something like statement_1.pdf.

I mean, what is the use of that?
Am I meant to put it in the same folder as the other statements from the same company? Because if I want to maintain my account history, I need to keep the statements, because they throw them away, as we know.

This is the worst of them all, because I really actually have to edit the filename if I am going to put it in a folder.

But even if they are helpful enough to put a date in the PDF filename, does it help me sort? No, of course not. It’s something like statement_12 Jun 14 .pdf or statement_2014-01-02.pdf, which, apart front the amazing space before the dot and extension (!) in one of them, is no help at all for sorting. Why can’t they use ISO dates, like any sensible organisation?

And notice that they haven’t put any indication of what the organisation is in the file name.

In fact, why can’t they let me set a preference of exactly how I would like the filename to look? It wouldn’t be hard, would it?!!!

And why only a few months of bills?

While we are at it, why only “15 months” or “6 months” of bills?

Come on, is disc (and backup) so expensive they can’t keep the tiny bit of ASCII text or numbers in a DB for a few years? The CSV is only 5KB, and the PDF if I ask for that is 177KB. It probably cost them more to get the code written and run to delete the old data than it would cost them to keep it.

Online billing emails without the PDF

So I have to log in to the site to see their pathetic little apology for a bit of paper bill.

That’s all I wanted – the bill; so why couldn’t they send it to me, some utilities do.

But no, I have to “Log in and view you bill” (sic)*, which takes me to the Landing page. Then I get the honour of clicking on their “Log In” button, which takes me to the Log in page. If I can actually now manage to go through the authentication, I might, if I am lucky, get a button that lets me finally view the actual bill, but more likely it will be a summary page that has another button with “Download Your Bill”.

At this stage I am now at the same point as if they had simply sent me the PDF in the first place.

OK, I know that one of the reasons they do this is so that they can try and sell me stuff as I go from page to page, but some of them don’t even do that!

“Quick and easy” or whatever they say when they want you to sign up? I don’t think so. It is much easier to pick up the letter they send and open the envelope and look at the bill.

* “Log in and view you bill” is what I see in my mailer for this particular company. I don’t let emails download images by default (not least because of tracking), and so I see the Alt text, where as the button is right.