Wearable health devices may pose privacy risks: Report

12/15/2016 - 3 minutes read
Study finds use of health wearable devices may pose consumer and privacy risks.
The Fitbit fitness tracker device along with other health information wearable devices may pose privacy consumer risks, according to a new report. Photo by A. Aleksandravicius/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) — Researchers have uncovered new risks to privacy and security with the use of personal health wearable devices like fitness bands, “smart” clothing and high-tech watches.

A report released Thursday by researchers at American University and the Center for Digital Democracy is raising privacy and security concerns related to personal health wearable devices used to monitor heart rates, sleep patterns, calories and stress level.

The report, Health Wearable Devices in the Big Data Era: Ensuring Privacy, Security, and Consumer Protection, contends weak and fragmented health-privacy regulations fail to adequately safeguard personal health information collected by these devices.

Some of the current digital health marketing practices that could pose a threat to the privacy of consumer health information cited in the report include “condition targeting,” “look-alike modeling,” predictive analytics, “scoring,” and the real-time buying and selling of individual consumers.

“Many of these devices are already being integrated into a growing Big Data digital health and marketing ecosystem, which is focused on gathering and monetizing personal and health data in order to influence consumer behavior,” according to the report.

The report shows how Big Data techniques are being used to harness the capabilities of these devices, like biosensors and haptic feedback technology.

According to the report, there are ways government, industry, philanthropy, nonprofit organizations, and academic institutions can work together to help ensure health privacy and consumer protection including creating clear, enforceable standards for data collection and use, formal processes for assessing the benefits and risks of data use, and stronger regulation of direct-to-consumer marketing by pharmaceutical companies.

These efforts “will require moving beyond the traditional focus on protecting individual privacy, and extending safeguards to cover a range of broader societal goals, such as ensuring fairness, preventing discrimination, and promoting equity,” the report states.

“Americans now are facing a growing loss of their most sensitive information, as their health data are collected and analyzed on a continuous basis, combined with information about their finances, ethnicity, location, and online and off-line behaviors,” Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and co-author of the report, said in a press release.

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