What’s Our Health Data Worth?

by Jerry Beilinson, Consumer Reports

Runner apps


When Barack Obama came to Austin, Texas, to speak at SXSW, the yearly festival of ideas in music, technology, and movies, the President was wearing a Fitbit on his wrist. Fitbit’s wildly popular fitness trackers can capture health data such as heart-rate, sleep patterns, and location. Apparently, the president has people to tweak his technology, limiting how much of his personal information pours into the ocean of data for sale about consumers. But the rest of us have few protections against such information being collected and monetized, according to a SXSW panel organized by Consumer Reports and led by Teresa Carr, a senior editor who reports on health and medical topics for the organization.

“It’s a 21st-century gold rush, where our health data is looked at as a natural resource,” Carr said at the session, held on Monday at Austin’s JW Marriott. Medical records shared among doctors and hospitals are covered by HIPAA, the medical privacy law, but data shared among app developers, financial firms, and others is unregulated. As President Obama has pointed out, the use of such data can enhance research and promote public health. But there are also risks.

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