In November of 2019, news broke around Google’s $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit continuing the search giant’s push into the health market. Here is physical versus digital health and what you need to know about privacy and healthtech.
In December, we learned that the US Justice Department is now investigating the deal after many, including watchdog groups Public Citizen and Center for Digital Democracy, expressed concerns about giving Google access to even more data on American consumers.
What’s going on in privacy and healthtech?
It seems like big tech acquisitions happen on a daily bases – so what’s so significant about Google’s big FitBit purchase to warrant attention from the DOJ and what does this mean for healthtech? It all boils down to privacy and the ongoing debate around data ownership.
While healthtech companies and the innovations that they bring to help motivate, manage and improve our physical health are extremely valuable, we can’t lose sight of other factors. It’s unfortunate that people often ignore their digital health. Mainly — which companies have access to our incredibly personal and valuable health data? What they’re doing with it?
From the increase in major health data breaches and hacks to key considerations of using the latest healthtech – here’s what consumers need to know in order to optimize for both physical and digital health.
Health Data is Valuable — Hackers Would Agree
The number of medical records hacked during the first half of 2019 reached 32 million, doubling the previous record set in 2018. This includes the largest breach to date, in which 19 million medical records were stolen from clinical laboratories Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp. The numbers seem to grow every year, alongside users’ justified concern around the security measures taken to protect this sensitive data.
It’s no coincidence that more than 25% of all data breaches are related to healthcare.
Hackers are smart to identify some of the most valuable and vulnerable data, in this case, medical records. These records provide access to troves of personal information that can be sold on the dark web to enable identity theft.
Very few data resources offer such insight into people’s lives, which makes medical records and the companies holding them a highly coveted target. To put it in numbers, personal health information is considered three times more valuable to hackers compared to other types of personal data, including credit card information.
These alarming stats come at a time when healthtech solutions are on the rise and there’s a rapid (and much needed) digitization of traditional healthcare providers.
Activity trackers and other wearable devices.
As activity trackers and other wearable devices become part of our daily routine, we sometimes don’t categorize certain solutions as possible gateways to our medical information.
No, this doesn’t mean we should simply stay “off the grid” in hopes of keeping our data safe, especially given the massive benefits healthtech brings to our modern-day lives.
Rather, we need to be more vigilant about the kinds of products and companies we decide to volunteer our personal health information to. Here are a few important considerations to take in order to protect your healthcare data.
Consider the Why — Always Focus on Value
Why should you give this specific company access to your medical data? What sort of value are you getting in return, and is it worth it? A recent study conducted by Mine.com revealed that many of us allow hundreds of online tools and services to access our data.
Even years after they’ve ceased to give any value in return, and in many cases, after a one-time use only or without so much as opening a user account.
Digging into this further, our research shows that users have over 2,500 unique health and wellness services in their digital footprints, that’s around 8 companies on average and 40% of which are from a one-time use and recommended for deletion.
The top US-based health and wellness services found in our users’ digital footprints include Headspace.com, fitbit.com, myfitnesspal.com, 23andme.com, cvs.com, skimble.com, and zocdoc.com.
We either forget about these services or feel overwhelmed by the need to manage them, which allows companies to continue collecting our data, health-related or otherwise. This is an important consideration because it allows us to separate the tools we use and need from the unnecessary data baggage.
You wouldn’t want your medical information to be deleted from the web altogether, as this might make it impossible to receive medical treatment should you need it. We must start by focusing on what truly brings you value.
Consider the Who — Trust is Crucial
Who really gains access to your healthcare data? Can they be trusted? Verifying the identity of companies that provide medical technology is crucial because it helps us understand who we’re dealing with and allows us to make informed decisions.
Huge corporates can use your information in many different ways, some of which you might not approve of such as selling data to advertisers.
It’s also important to note that the business world is dynamic, which means that the company enjoying access to your data today may change ownership tomorrow. A couple of recent examples include the acquisition of FitBit by Google mentioned earlier.
There has also been a collaboration between the DNA-testing company 23andMe with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. Both news items were met with suspicion from users who were rightfully worried about the implication of such deals on their private data.
Consider You — Maintaining Physical and Digital Health is Possible
It’s very possible to continue using the latest healthtech services and tools while protecting data ownership by managing your data on a regular basis. Once the power shifts to the people to take control of their data, the above stats, questions, and considerations will no longer seem as threatening. Then the relationship between consumers and healthcare technologies will become much healthier.
While the healthtech industry is different in many aspects, one thing remains the same. Just like any other technology we interact with, there are pros and cons. The same way hackers recognize the value of healthcare technology, so must we.
New, innovative solutions can greatly improve our lives (and even safety) like never before. A few months ago, Apple Watch’s fall detection feature saved a man’s life by automatically calling 911.
Instead of being afraid of progress or rejecting new solutions, we must ask the right questions, and make technology work for us, not against us.