Personal health wearable devices that are used to monitor heart rates, sleep patterns, calories, and even stress levels have led to new privacy and security risks. Though watches, fitness bands, and so-called "smart" clothing are part of a growing "connected-health" system in the U.S., promising to provide people with more efficient ways to manage their own health, it isn't a Utopia if you aren't a fan of weak and fragmented health-privacy regulatory system.
The authors of a new report are academics, and so fall immediately into a call for more federal laws and regulations, but they are missing the point: The Big Data digital health and marketing ecosystem, which is focused on gathering and monetizing personal and health data in order to influence consumer behavior, is already here. And they have already hired lobbyists.
We are already in a world of "condition targeting," "look-alike modeling," predictive analytics, "scoring," and the real-time buying and selling of individual consumers. The technology of wearable devices are particularly powerful tools for data collection and digital marketing. More federal laws will not change that.
The authors nonetheless call for an approach to health privacy and consumer protection in the era of Big Data and the Internet of Things which includes:
Clear, enforceable standards for both the collection and use of information;
Formal processes for assessing the benefits and risks of data use; and
Stronger regulation of direct-to-consumer marketing by pharmaceutical companies.
That goes beyond protecting individual privacy.
The upside is that, properly used, personalized fitness monitoring could lead to lower health care costs, an initiative that has failed poorly under the Affordable Care Act. The trade-off may be that health data are collected and analyzed on a continuous basis, combined with information about their finances, ethnicity, location, and online and off-line behaviors