Securing your health data

Do data gatherers really know what they’re doing and should we care?

Search engines, apps, the digital marketplace sites we sign up for to get deals on hotel rooms, flights and so on, all gather and use our data. And we’re happy to let it happen – or too lazy to do anything about it.

We’ve become used to a Google ad for socks popping up on our Facebook page immediately after we’ve visited a clothing retailer’s website. Algorithms designed for personalization make searching for what we want fast and easy. We get where we want to go faster. We have our own digital assistant.

Just about every app developer I talk to, digital health or otherwise, admits that part of their agenda is creating something people will want to use so much they willingly hand over their data. Especially when users believe the app will help make our lives better. Most investors buy into – or buy – app builders because of the monetary value of the data they’re able to collect.

This all becomes big data, the vast volumes of data gathered by the computers, devices and sensors we come into contact with every day.

Data is sexy

So, it’s not surprising that data science – defined by as:

“a new profession that is expected to make sense of the vast stores of big data.”

…has become one of the most rapidly growing professions in the digital world. Bafflingly complicated and super-nerd sexy, it’s important to remember that digital science had its origins in hacking.

Sorry for Sony?

Because, more and more, big data is making many of us very uneasy. Not because we believe something deeply sinister is going on and, in my case, not even because I resent someone making money out of my personal information. It’s more that I’m not convinced that the data gatherers actually know what they’re doing – I think they’re blindly collecting data because they can. And I’m not sure they know how to protect our data.

It’s well-known that data is very easily duplicated but extremely hard to keep secure. Look at last year’s Sony pictures hack. In this case, all that happened was that a lot of film business people ended up with egg on their faces and it was very hard to feel sorry for them.

Be careful what you share

But what if it’s us? What if the data we’re blithely allowing to be harvested from our wearable health devices is hacked? What if our confidential health details end up on Facebook and our significant others or employers discover we’ve got some terrible medical condition we’ve been keeping secret?

And this is not a satisfyingly chilling doomsday scenario. Experts are predicting that a far bigger hack than Sonygate is waiting to happen. Only much bigger and with consequences that could take in litigation on a vast scale.

Now, take into account the fact that US health authorities are obliging all medical health professionals to allow their health records to be digitized. You don’t need to be a scaremonger to figure out what might happen next.

And if, or when it does, how will we feel about big data then?

Tell us what you think

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


David Holzer is a freelance writer in at least two minds about technology.






There are no comments.