The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has opened the beta phase of its Sandbox, a new service designed to support organisations using personal data to develop products and services that are innovative and have demonstrable public benefit.

The beta phase of the Sandbox, which is now open to applications, will enable participants to work through how they use personal data in their projects with the ICO’s specialist staff to help ensure they comply with data protection rules.

The Sandbox will also provide some comfort from enforcement action and, where feasible, increased public reassurance that innovative products and services are not in breach of data protection legislation.

The Sandbox beta phase offers a free, professional, fully functioning service for approximately 10 organisations, of varying types and sizes, across a number of sectors. The ICO will consider applications from start-ups, SMEs and large organisations, across private, public and voluntary sectors.

The ICO will assess applications on the basis of whether the product or service being developed is innovative and can provide a potential demonstrable benefit to the public. Public benefit will be determined in terms of both breadth – the amount of people benefitting – and depth – the extent to which they benefit.

The ICO expects that many of the products that will come into the Sandbox will be at the cutting edge of innovation and may be operating in particularly challenging areas of data protection where there is genuine uncertainty about what compliance looks like.

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As a result, Sandbox participants may become use-cases from which the ICO anticipates change and develops public guidance and resources on compliance.

“Thousands of organisations are working on projects using personal data to transform the way we live and work,” said Simon McDougall, Executive Director for Technology and Innovation at the ICO.

“We want to support this innovation whilst helping ensure that the products and services under development are compliant and deliver benefits to the public.

“The lessons we learn together may identify more fundamental questions with broader implications for data protection, and could ultimately inform the development of new guidance or codes of conduct in particular sectors to pave the way for further innovation.”

Successful organisations will receive an on-site visit from a dedicated Sandbox team member, who will then work with them to devise and implement a bespoke Sandbox plan. Organisations will exit the Sandbox by September 2020 when the beta phase is planned to finish.