Privacy vs. Personalization

June 5, 2014
Cyber criminals know you have smelly feet

Let’s face it — social media has greatly slackened the boundaries on what we consider personal information. I have friends who proudly share things in Facebook statuses that my grandmother probably wouldn’t even consider whispering behind closed doors to her doctor of 30 years.

We have created a generation that reveals “TMI” (too much information) and yet, it appears as though that’s exactly what we need to do to if our goal is to move toward more personalized medical care. The “Quantified Self” — a movement that aims to incorporate technology into a person’s daily life, allowing individuals to quantify all types of biometrics within their own bodies — is now a realistic and desirable reality.

But the more personal information we quantify, the more personal information we reveal. As Michael Spitz of Klick Health wrote in a recent mobile health column, “The battle between privacy and personalization has been particularly acute in healthcare. On the one hand, we all justifiably want our personal information kept private; but on the other, we want to live the dream of the Quantified Self ... Unfortunately we can’t have it both ways: The better the service, the more the system needs to know about the served.”

Cybercrime is a booming billion dollar business, but when it comes to digital health, there is more than just money at stake. As the pharmaceutical industry evolves to rely more on technology to conduct business, the industry becomes more and more vulnerable to cybercrime. From drug research to personal medical records, the pharma industry is generating huge amounts of sensitive data that needs to be protected.

When it comes to recalls, the pharmaceutical industry has a good handle on its supply chains. But what about managing a supply chain in regards to cybercrime? For a single ailment, a patient could, for example, research online, visit general practitioners, specialists, labs, and X-ray facilities, followed by using social media to gather opinions on a specific drug, filling the prescription at a pharmacy and then using mobile apps or devices to monitor ongoing treatment. What that amounts to is a huge data trail of personal information that spans across several industries.

The Identity Theft Resource Center keeps a running list of reported data breaches in the United States. As of May 27, medical/healthcare breaches comprised almost 50 percent of reported data breaches. It remains true that information will always be used for both good and evil, and there is a percentage of the population that will always abuse this opportunity. No digital system can be counted on to be 100% secure. As we progress in this new era of digital technology, evolving cyber criminals mean that pharma is faced with the burden of guarding against threats that the industry may not even know exist.

While the digital movement changes the way we interact socially, it also changes the way industry needs to police it. As people become willing to shift their boundaries of privacy and the pharmaceutical industry becomes more adept at protecting this data, there will be a middle ground enabling amazing progress in the world of digital health — a middle ground that provides reasonable assurance that Bob’s smelly feet won’t be the reason he can’t get a mortgage.

About the Author

Karen Langhauser | Digital Content Manager