Painting a false picture of ourselves

In the quest for improving our health, we're on the path to capturing more data about us, and what we do, and what happens to us. It's no longer sufficient to capture data about our health when we visit the doctor. Sensors are popping up all over the place, even in pills that help others determine whether we are actually taking our medication. Today, the most prevalent sensors are the ones in those wristbands and smart watches that track how many steps we've taken and how much we've slept. We're likely to end up at some point in the future where many, if not all of us, will be monitored 24 hours a day. Recently, Target in the USA, announced it will be offering a Fitbit activity tracker to each of its 335,000 employees.

There are already insurers in the US & UK that are offering rewards if you share data from your wearable, and the data from the wearable proves you are being active enough. In Switzerland, a pilot project by health insurer, CSS, is monitoring how many steps customers are walking every day, with one implication being, "people who refuse to be monitored will be subject to higher premiums." In that same article, Peter Ohnemus of Dacadoo, believes "Eventually we will be implanted with a nano-chip which will constantly monitor us and transmit the data to a control centre."

Well, if pills with ingestible sensors are already here, then the vision of Ohnemus may not be that far fetched. En route to the nano-chip, I note that Samsung's new Sleepsense device that sits under your mattress and tracks your sleep (and analyses the quality of your sleep), offers a feature where a report about your sleep can be emailed daily to family members. You might use it to track how your elderly parents/grandparents/children are sleeping. At the 5th EAI International Conference on Wireless Mobile Communication and Healthcare in London next month, there is a keynote titled, "The car as a location for medical diagnosis." There is so much data about us that could be captured and shared with interested parties, it's an exciting new era for many of us. 

 SLEEPsense was launched when I visited IFA earlier this month

SLEEPsense was launched when I visited IFA earlier this month

Not everyone is excited though. It's truly fascinating to observe how people might respond to the introduction of these new sensors in our lives. We're going to see many developments in 'smart home' technologies, and maybe Apple's HomeKit will be the catalyst for people to make their homes as smart as possible. Given aging populations, maybe older people, especially those living alone are the perfect candidates for these sensors and devices. Whilst their children, doctors and insurers may find the ability to 'remotely monitor' behaviour quite reassuring, what if the older person being monitored doesn't like being monitored? What strategies might they employ to hack the system? The short film below, 'Uninvited Guests' shows an elderly man and his smart home, and where the friction might occur. 

Then you have 'Unfit Bits' which pokes fun at the growing trend of linking data from your activity tracker with your insurance. "At Unfit Bits, we are investigating DIY fitness spoofing techniques to allow you to create walking datasets without actually having to share your personal data. These techniques help produce personal data to qualify you for insurance rewards even if you can't afford a high exercise lifestyle." Check out their video. 

These videos are food for thought. Our daily choices and behaviour are going to come under increased scrutiny, and just because it's technically possible, will it be socially desirable? Decisions are increasingly being made by algorithms, and algorithms need data. There is a call for healthcare to be more of a data driven culture, but how will we know if the data coming from outside the doctor's office can be trusted? There is huge concern regarding the risks of health data being stolen, but little concern regarding how health data may be falsified. 

In the case of employers tracking employees, "Instead of feeling like part of a team, surveilled workers may develop an us-versus-them mentality and look for opportunities to thwart the monitoring schemes of Big Boss", writes Lynn Parramore in her post examining the dystopia of workplace surveillance.  As these new 'monitoring' technologies and associated services emerge and grow, at the same time, will we also observe the emergence of technologies that will allow us to paint a false picture of ourselves?

[Disclosure: I have no commercial ties to any of the individuals or organisations mentioned in the post]

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