Is our data ready for the wearable health revolution?


AVGby Tony Anscombe, Security Evangelist, AVG Technologies

Wearables can arm us with powerful data that can help us improve our health and lifestyle but are we ready to share our sensitive medical data with the world?

This week MEF issued a report on the use of wearable devices in the health sector, both relating to personal consumption and also when recommended or used by health professionals. According to the report, “the global health and fitness app market is currently worth $4 billion, and is predicted to be worth $26 billion by 2017”. This means that we’re going to hear a lot more about health wearables in the future.

The biggest selling point for wearables is their convenience. They can passively track our activity, pulse and other vital data points that allow us to make health and lifestyle decisions. Imagine a future where a patient that needs frequent monitoring for diagnosis can go about their daily routine while a wearable tracks and transmits their data back to the doctor for analysis. This remote diagnosis is potentially an incredibly simple way to provide doctors with the information they need without waiting time, travel time and consultation time.

There have been some very interesting developments in this area over the past year as well, with Google researching contact lenses that measure blood sugar to the use of wearable camera technology used in surgery so a remote surgeon can assist.

MEF’s report also showed that the adoption of wearable technology in health is lower in Western countries and some of the lowest is seen in Germany and France. I believe that patients in these countries are more aware of data security and privacy risks having seen many data breach stories in the news over the last few years.

Trust and data security are fundamental to the success of mHealth. Wearables are blurring the lines between recreational and medical data. By law, medical data needs to be encrypted and authenticated (HIPPA in the USA for example) but recreational data as captured by most wearable devices does not.

Moreover, manufacturers of wearable fitness trackers and other activity monitors are not operating in a regulated market and companies could be using this data in ways that we neither agree with nor understand (even though it may be in their policy documents).

If commercial companies are to hold data that we really only expect medical companies to hold then maybe the regulations should apply to them as well.

While it may be boring, I would recommend reading the privacy policy and terms of use of anything collecting what is very personal and sensitive data and making a choice on whether you want to share this data.

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