A number of retailers are in talks to sign up to a Government-backed initiative designed to stimulate innovation and growth by sharing information with consumers about their buying and spending habits.

The voluntary scheme, called Midata, is aimed at creating a “new era of consumer empowerment” by encouraging businesses to give consumers increasing access to their personal data so they can make more informed choices about buying and spending on products and services and “manage their lives more efficiently”.

Businesses will also benefit, the Government believes, because it will improve dialogue with customers and increase trust between the two.

But chair of the Midata programme Professor Nigel Shadbolt said more conversations need to take place with the retail sector. “Retail is a very innovative sector and has been collating more research on consumers than anyone else, which is a hugely valuable asset,” he said. “There is just a sense of what information do consumers want and how could they use it? We also need to address the different types of retailers.” It is the first time in the world such an initiative has been backed by a Government, which aims to release the first ‘personal data inventories’ [company-heldconsumer information] in the first half of 2012.

Although officially, no retailers have yet signed up to the scheme, it is understood department store group John Lewis and online retailer Amazon are working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on the initiative.

At the scheme’s launch consumer affairs minister Ed Davey said: “Currently, most consumer data is held by service providers, meaning only one side of the customer-business relationship is empowered with the tools of information management. Midata seeks to redress that balance.”

BIS said the next step is to develop a framework to build online ‘personal data inventories’ in each business sector to describe the types of data an organisation holds for a customer. Protocols to handle issues relating to privacy, data security and consumer protection will also be established.

However, some doubts have been expressed about the scheme. In a column for Retail Week published in September British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson said the Government needs to clarify what information retailers can offer consumers through the Midata scheme.