December 18, 2013
Companies are actively, aggressively targeting you using your own personal data, without your knowledge or permission.
Thatís not good for your privacy, but itís hardly news - except when itís the healthcare industry. Yesterday, news broke that healthcare companies are identifying all manner of pertinent medical details about you without setting eyes on your medical chart.
How? Personal habits - all gleaned online and aggregated into detailed, invasive profiles using data mining algorithms.
The news is alarming:
Is it a violation of HIPAA?
Amazingly, no - all of these very personal details are inferred based on probability (likely accurate but probability nonetheless), not by talking to your doctor illegally. Yet itís clearly an overstep into an ethically gray area. And thatís why the question of consumer protection is one that should weigh heavily on everyoneís minds.
Right now, itís recruiting patients for a drug study that one could argue might help that person and countless others.
Right now, itís making others aware of new medicines that may work for their particular conditions.
Yet it doesnít take a privacy advocate or a confirmed cynic to make that very short leap from these semi-benign approaches to other, more detrimental uses of personal health data.
Perhaps itís a large Fortune 500 company that would much prefer to hire a workforce full of hale and healthy individuals who wonít drive up their premiums. (Goodbye, older workers, disabled employees, people with imperfect BMIs, workers with chronic but manageable diseases!).
Maybe itís the spouse who picks up the phone and learns from a telemarketer that his wife is pregnant or that her husband is worried about early signs of dementia.
In fact, that has already happened - Target was able to market to a pregnant teen before her own father even knew she was expecting a baby, all thanks to her shopping habits.
In the age of social media, we have become so comfortable with free apps and services that personal inertia has replaced our concern, even outrage, on how companies use this data.
If understanding that companies can now legally skirt HIPAA - your lawful protection for medical privacy - and use information not just to target you but to perhaps discriminate against you, then I donít know what will shatter our complacency when it comes to personal privacy.
What do you think?