Why you should consider sharing your health data with big-tech companies?

Sulabh Gupta


A couple of days ago, the EU demanded major concessions from Google over the Fitbit deal. Since the acquisition was announced in November last year, the deal has faced a lot of criticism from regulators and consumer groups about how Google’s access to Fitbit data could be used to further enhance their search advantage. In fact, some people on Twitter suggested that they are moving to Apple Watch as they don’t want Google to have any more insight into their life, especially medical information.

I do believe there should be transparency about what data is being collected, who is it being shared with, and the users shouldn’t be penalized for opting out from sharing their data. I appreciate that there is a great push for regulation on big companies, especially because the current Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) regulations about privacy don’t apply to wearables. However, playing the Devil’s advocate here, I think there are a couple of good reasons why users may want to share their health data with the big tech companies.

  1. Reduced Health Insurance Costs

There are several big auto insurance companies like Allstate that frequently strike a deal with interested drivers to install a monitoring device in their car and if you are a safe driver, you get discounts on your monthly car insurance. I don’t see why this can’t apply to our health insurance. With a plethora of options to track daily activities nowadays, I think it would be great to have my health insurance reduced if I am physically active. In fact, it would give me an extra incentive to keep up with my health routine. It doesn’t make sense for two people on the opposite end of health routine to pay the same amount of monthly health insurance. Health providers like Manulife already have programs like “Vitality” that provides your rewards for completing certain health challenges each day. It allows them to collect data about your health and physical activity.

Whether you like it or not, I think in the next few years, the majority of employers would work with group insurance providers to encourage their employees to sign-up for apps like “Vitality” which could help reduce their costs and help their employees live a healthier lifestyle.

2. You are already sharing your health data without knowing about it

According to a report by WSJ, the period-tracking app Flo shares information about when a user is having her period with Facebook. Its privacy policy alerts the users that their data could be shared with nine different companies including Google, Facebook, and several other advertising companies. Such apps often have a fine print indicating that the data would be shared but there are hardly any users that go into such details before accepting the terms of service when using these apps. Google can track your health-related searches when you are searching for something online. There was an instance, a couple of years ago, where Target started suggesting pregnancy-related products to one of its customers over emails before she even knew that she was pregnant. So, unless you are living under a rock, you most certainly have shared your health data knowingly or unknowingly with these organizations already.

What frustrates me the most is that we live in a world where a majority of the population post about their daily lives on social media and then cry about the invasion of privacy on their social media account. I saw a documentary about how dating sites have over 800 pages of data collected for each individual on their platform. Astonishing, right? Now, imagine how much data is collected by the sites or applications you frequently use. I don't even want to know how much data Facebook or Google has on me. While thinking about all this gives me the creeps, I don't mind sharing the data from my wearables with the big-tech companies as I believe that it can be beneficial in the long run.

3. Helping with Research

As Clive Humby mentioned, data is the new oil. Good quality data is the foundation of making machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms more accurate. With the current coronavirus pandemic, it is imperative that more funding goes into new and innovative medical and technical research initiatives to make sure we are better prepared in the future. Without a doubt, big technology companies would play a major role in any future research related to medicine - quantum computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, or contact tracing apps, take your pick. Such research can be successful and effective only if quality data is available to the tech companies developing these systems. Just to clarify, I am not justifying a no holds barred access to our health data and I strongly advocate regulation of how and what information is being shared but I believe that in the long-term our health data captured through the wearables can help us improve our lives.

Final Words

I think with all the news and paranoia about privacy over the past few years, most of the users don’t care as much about their data as you would think. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely care about the principle of privacy, it is certainly creepy to think that a company is tracking your every move. However, I don’t think they care enough to change their behavior in any significant way. The fact of the matter is that most of these apps and technologies that we use today rely on collecting data that helps them personalize your recommendations and enhance your experience which is something most users like about these applications — YouTube, Netflix are good examples of how the data collected could enhance your experience by making viewing recommendations based on your past history.

Sharing our health data could actually benefit us. Not only the reduced health insurance and motivation to maintain a healthy routine but it could lead to better insights into life sciences processes that could save lives in the future through predictive analysis. Now, you may argue that why would the big tech companies need access to your data but there is no denying the fact that the technology is a big part of modern-day innovation today and with the rise of AI and Quantum computing, it makes a lot of sense to share our data with technology companies under certain regulations.

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