The New York Times reports on “stretchable electronics” and other wearable or internal sensors and technology that will be able to gather information on and monitor an individual’s “most intimate biological processes,” which could have privacy implications for individuals’ medical data:
Already products like the Nike+ FuelBand and the Fitbit wireless monitor track our daily activity, taking note of our steps and calories burned. The idea is to help meet an exercise regimen, perhaps lose some weight. The real-world results are uneven. For sure, though, people are building up big individual databases about themselves over increasingly long periods of time. So are the companies that sell these products, which store that data.
That is barely the start. Later this year, a Boston-based company called MC10 will offer the first of several “stretchable electronics” products that can be put on things like shirts and shoes, worn as temporary tattoos or installed in the body. These will be capable of measuring not just heart rate, the company says, but brain activity, body temperature and hydration levels. Another company, called Proteus, will begin a pilot program in Britain for a “Digital Health Feedback System” that combines both wearable technologies and microchips the size of a sand grain that ride a pill right through you. […]
Make no mistake about these companies’ ambitions. “Ultimately, we see ourselves as a part of the healthcare ecosystem,” Amar Kendale, MC10’s VP of market strategy and development, said in an e-mail. In this future, he wrote, “data will need to be shared seamlessly between customers, providers, and payers in order to reduce heathcare costs and simultaneously deliver the best possible care.” Proteus hopes to use anonymized data from its customers to understand health patterns over an entire population, presumably to revolutionize medicine. […]
What is missing is much of a sense of what this is worth, and what it may cost, and the terms under which we’ll turn our data into a product. Nike and Fitbit already log a lot of personal data, and it is not clear what, if anything, they plan to do with it.
Nike acknowledged an e-mail asking for details about its plans, but did not get back after that. The software license for Nike+ does say that “Nike+ Product Software may include software that collects information about how you use your Nike+ Product,” but has no further details about what this means. Fitbit did not respond to e-mails.
Proteus says its customers will own their data and may share it, but must also grant the company permission to use it for product development and the cultivation of its data sets. As Mr. Kendale stated, MC10 sees data sharing between people and companies as something of a necessity. […]
What may be troubling to all, however, is the haphazard way these new behaviors will be captured and determined. There are likely to be different strategies depending on company, country of use and whether the product is looking as something regulated, like a drug, or open, like a heart rate.