When you're driving the car, would you let an employee from a corporation sit in the passenger seat and record details on what route you're taking, which music you listen to and the text messages you send and receive?
When you're sitting at home watching TV with your family, would you let an employee from a corporation sit on the sofa next to you and record details on what types of TV shows you watch?
When you're in the gym working out, when you're going for your daily walk, would you let an employee from a corporation stand alongside you and record details on how long you walked, where you walked, and how your body responded to the physical activity?
I suspect many of you would answer 'No' to all 3 questions. However, that's exactly the future that is being painted after the recent Google I/O event. Aimed at software developers, it revealed a glimpse of what Google have got planned for the year ahead. New services such as Android Wear, Android Auto, Android TV and Google Fit promise to change our lives.
In this article titled 'Google's master plan: Turn everything into data!", David Auerbach appreciates how more sensors in our homes, cities and on our bodies is a hugely lucrative opportunity for a company like Google. "That information is also useful to companies that want to sell you things. And if Google stands between your data and the sellers and controls the pipe, then life is sweet for Google."
In a brilliant article by Parmy Olsen, she writes about the announcement at I/O about Google Fit, a new platform. "There’s a major advertising opportunity for Google to aggregate our health data in a realm outside of traditional search". Now during the event, Google did state that users would control what health and fitness data they share with the platform. Let's see whether corporate statements translate to actual terms & conditions in the years ahead.
Why are companies like Google so interested in the data from your body in between doctor visits? As I've stated before, our bodies generate data 24/7, yet it's only currently captured when we visit the doctor. So, the organisation that captures, stores & aggregates that data at a global level is likely to be very profitable, as well as wielding significant power in health & social care.
Indeed, it could also prove transformative for those providing & delivering health & social care. In the utopian vision of health systems powered by data, this constant stream of data about our health might allow the system to predict when we're likely to have a heart attack, or fall?
Privacy and your baby
When people have a baby, some things change. It's human nature to want to protect and provide for our children when they are helpless and vulnerable. For example, someone may decide to upgrade to a safer car once they have a baby. We generally do everything we can to give our children the best possible start in life.
If you have a newborn baby, would you allow an employee from a corporation to enter your home and sit next to your baby and record data on it's sleeping patterns? In the emerging world of wearable technology, some parents are considering using products and services where their baby's data would be owned by someone else.
In a survey by Accenture Interactive, they found that 80% of people have privacy concerns with wearable Internet of Things connected technologies. Only 9% of those in the survey said they would share their data with brands for free. Yet, that figure rose to 28% would share their wearable data if they were given a coupon or discount based upon their lifestyle.
Ideally, there would be a way in which we as consumers could own and control our personal data in the cloud and even profit from it. In fact, it already exists. The Respect Network promises just that, and was launched globally at the end of June 2014. From their website, "Respect Network enables secure, authentic and trusted relationships in the digital world". Surely, that's what we want in the 21st century? Or maybe not. I haven't met a single person who has heard of Respect Network since they launched. Not one person. What does that tell you about the world we live in?
Deep down, are we increasingly becoming apathetic about privacy? Is convenience a higher priority than knowing that our personal data are safe? Is being safe and secure in the digital world just a big hassle?
A survey of 15,000 consumers in 15 countries for the EMC Privacy Index found a number of behavioural paradoxes, one of which they termed "Take no action", "although privacy risks directly impact many consumers, most take virtually no action to protect their privacy – instead placing the onus on government and businesses". It reminds me of an interaction I had on Twitter recently with Dr Gulati, an investor in Digital Health.
What needs to change?
Our children are growing up in a world where their personal data are going to be increasingly useful (or harmful), depending upon the context. What are our children taught at school about their personal data rights? It's been recently suggested that schools in England should offer lessons about sex and relationships from age 7, part of a "curriculum for life". Shouldn't the curriculum for life include being educated about the intersection of your personal data and your privacy?
Things are changing as it was revealed last night that Apple have tightened privacy rules in their new operating system for people developing apps using their new HealthKit API. An article cites text pulled from the licence, developers may "not sell an end-user's health information collected through the HealthKit API to advertising platforms, data brokers or information resellers," and are barred from using gathered data "for any purpose other than providing health and/or fitness services."
Apps using the HealthKit API must also provide privacy policies.
Will the news from Apple make you more likely as a consumer to download a health app for your iPhone vs your Android device? Will it cause you trust Apple more than Google or Samsung? Have Apple gone far enough with their recent announcement or could they do more? Will Apple's stance lead to them becoming THE trusted hub for our health data, above and beyond the current healthcare system?
How can we as individuals do more to become aware of our rights? As well as the campaigns to teach people to learn how to code, should we have campaigns to teach people how to protect their privacy? When commentators write that privacy is dead, do you believe them?
We're heading towards a future where over the next decade it will become far easier to use sensors to monitor the state of our bodies. Would you prefer a future where my body=my data or my body=their data? The choice is yours.
[Disclosure: I have no commercial ties with the individuals and organisations mentioned in this post]