The rise of MyData in Japan and discussions around personal data use

On May 15, 2019, MyData Japan conference was held in Tokyo, co-organized by Open Knowledge Japan and MyData Japan. Open Knowledge Japan has been organizing MyData Japan conferences for the past 3 times (2017, 2018, and 2019), and the movement has been growing steadily. Interests from the corporate sector has been the strongest, with 22 companies providing support for the conference. Another sign of the growth is the fact that this year, the conference is co-organized for the first time with MyData Japan, a newly incorporated entity dedicated to the advancement of MyData agendas in Japan. Open Knowledge Japan’s activities and network has led to a number of projects and organizations, including Open Spending Japan and Code 4 Japan. MyData Japan is probably the latest of such spin-offs, involving some of the active OK Japan members. 

© 2019 MyDataJapan.org & MyData.org, from: https://mydatajapan.org/events/mydata-japan-2019.html, license: CC-BY 4.0.

Like the previous two times, it featured a wide variety of speakers from civic, academic, and corporate sectors, including some guests from abroad. The topics discussed included personal data protection, democracy and data, ID and authentication, system architecture for the data reuse, AI and ethics of data use, overseas policy developments, data portability, and many others. If I pick one, an open source software for personal data store (PDS), Personium, presented by its project lead Mr. Shimono. He envisioned the loose federation of PDS’ connecting individual users of the software. In general, different speakers had different views on the degree to which data should be centrally hosted and/or managed by a trusted agent or fiduciary. 

Behind the growth of the movement in Japan is the increasing awareness of the importance of data reuse and data protection. The Japanese government has been exploring ways to promote data reuse, based on its 2016 version of “Japan Revitalization Strategy,” a comprehensive economic growth strategy package. Japanese government has funded some pilot projects, and developed a guideline for certification of such entity. The issue was put forth for a part of the G20 meetings with the concept of Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT). More specifically, the mechanism for better flow of data is conceived as information bank lately. The idea is somewhat close to that of data trust discussed in the UK and other countries. Individuals can decide to deposit information to a trusted entity, an information bank, which in turn will provide the data to a third party and return a portion of economic gains back to the individuals. An industry association picked up the task of certification of information banks. The extent it will succeed is yet to be seen, but Japan has at least seen the expectation leading to a formation of an institution. The MyData conference has discussed the concept of information bank in the past, and this conference happened right around the time the information bank becomes a reality. 

Lately Japanese news media and social media discussed some services making potentially inappropriate use of personal data. One is Yahoo! Japan’s credit score service, providing credit scores of their users to various businesses, based on users’ transaction records (such as missed payments and cancellation rate of restaurant reservations) and other personal data. Questions raised on that service by various experts and concerned citizens included whether proper consent was obtained prior to the service, and if Yahoo! Japan users (data subjects) deserved to know what their score was. The company quickly responded by adding explanations to its website addressing users.

Another interesting case is the rating of job seekers by Recruit Career, whose platform Rikunabi is one of the largest in Japan. The rating was specifically about the estimated chance of job applicants to decline the non-final job offer from a specific company. The platform presumably had data on the applicant’s browsing history, contacting with other companies, and possibly other data. The Recruit Career admitted that they used personal data of nearly 8,000 users inappropriately, and scrapped the service. Some government investigation has started into the matter. While Open Knowledge Japan has not issued any official comments on any of these, it’s chair commented critically on various aspects, emphasizing corporate responsibility to gain proper understanding from the individuals. 

(photo by Mitya Ivanov from Unsplash)

Overall, OK Japan and its members have been actively involved in the discussions on the policies and practices of personal data use, on how to properly communicate with individuals, how best to handle data, and so on, which are still very much actively ongoing issues.