Big Brother a.k.a. Big Data has his eye on your health. The twist? …You’re Him

The internet of things is generating a ridiculous amount of data on people brave enough to use it. There is data on everything from what temperature someone likes to keep their house in the month of December to what’s in their fridge the night before the big game. Some would say all this data is a positive; it provides for a streamlined life where people can go about their day without worrying about the more mundane aspects of it. The data being generated isn’t only being used to make things easier for us of course, but also to sell things to us. One of the latest iterations of this trend seems to be health monitoring through wearable devices that analyze and upload health data to the internet.

Our health is one area that has mostly been considered sacrosanct in our society up until now. There are laws against doctors disclosing health information to anyone other than the patients. Hell, there are even laws against a doctor’s office leaving a voicemail with that information within earshot of someone other than the intended patient. But that pesky’ Internet Of Things’ is right around the corner threatening to chip away at our private sanctum of health by generating and collecting useful data that will inevitably end up leading to targeted ads for health related products.


Imagine this scenario:

You put a simple device on your wrist that measures your heart rate along with a pedometer which tracks how far and how fast you’ve been running every day for a year. You load that data into a program along with your weight over the same period along with a few other tid-bits of information, maybe diet or the amount of sleep you’re getting. A program analyzes that data and before you know it you are seeing advertisements about blood pressure medication, lower sodium food products, a pair of sneakers that help you run faster, or even new insoles– because the software has determined that you have flat feet based on your gate and the distance you could run before having to take a break. These tools essentially collect a lot of the same data that the Doctor might during various check-ups or stress tests.

Is using personal health data to target advertisements the 3rd rail of marketing?

There is some inherent danger for advertisers using the health data collected to market products to people, because people do very much consider their health information to be private. A few data points, i.e., blood pressure, pulse rate, diet and weight, may not seem to paint a full picture of a person’s health, but over time – this data will paint a compelling picture when weighed against a person’s activity which is also being collected. We also have to count on these tools getting more sophisticated. This information provides advertisers the ability to target very specific groups which is always of paramount interest to them. Asking them not to use it would be like asking a dog not to bark.

So what?

Well you might ask, if I hypothetically had high blood pressure, why then would a few ads suggesting a product that could help me be a bad thing? Answer: Maybe it’s not, but maybe there are some other considerations that your doctor could really understand better than some algorithm. Or maybe you start buying healthier products that end up really turning your health around which ends up saving your life.

The point is this:

However useful ‘Big Data’ is, it is also the enemy of privacy. Privacy was the idea that you could go through your life and not have to disclose any information about yourself, your habits, your location or whatever if you didn’t choose to do so. Privacy was the benefit to not having all this useful data generated about us 24/7. Privacy as it was once known is gone. People now have to constantly weigh the benefits of privacy versus the benefits of having all this useful data. Just remember, you put the device on your wrist.