Promise of information gathering is a more efficient society that does not suffer financial crises, scientist says

A fridge that can buy groceries when supplies get low could be in homes of the future, a report weighing up the risks and benefits of sharing personal data has said.

LG, Samsung and Microsoft have all talked about developing a smart fridge that can monitor what food is inside and when the expiry dates are.

Personal data installed in the fridge could allow it to purchase groceries and have them delivered automatically.

However, open-slather personal data-sharing would put New Zealanders at very real risk, states a report from the New Zealand Data Futures Forum.


"It would be foolish not to try to minimise the potential harms that arise from the use of shared data," the report stated.

The forum is made up of individuals from government, the private sector and academia, and was established this year by the Ministers of Finance and Statistics.

Its first report, released this week, states they are aiming to promote discussion about what is possible for our data future, what kind of benefits and opportunities should be aimed for and what risks and challenges need to be managed.

The forum's chairman, former World Bank executive director John Whitehead, said maintaining the status quo was not an option.

"Ultimately, data is about people and so it's important everyone has a voice in what's going to be good or bad in terms of data-sharing and what New Zealand is or isn't willing to give up, compromise or miss out on."

Since the 1980s, individuals' daily activity had been increasingly stored electronically as data.

"So, when you interact with business, or government, undertake digital activity yourself, or indeed, when you're going about your normal daily life, you are leaving digital breadcrumbs [in the form of data] behind."

While bungles involving personal data, including security issues with Xtra, weaknesses with Winz kiosks and information mistakenly sent to wrong addresses by ACC and the EQC had highlighted the risks involved, it also had its benefits, the report stated.


Data scientist Alex Pentland said the promise of big data was for financial systems that didn't melt down, governments that didn't get mired in inaction and health systems which actually worked.

Examples of the way businesses used data included the way Fonterra used real-time data on milk volumes in farm milk tanks to optimise milk transport.