Three things took place this week that give me cause and pause for some concern regarding privacy and security.
First, a week ago I searched for flexible water hoses on Amazon. Nowhere else. Just Amazon. I found a few, saved them in my cart for later viewing. What happened? I started getting spam email about… insert drum roll here… flexible water hoses. Over the course of this week I received a few dozen spam email messages about flexible water hoses available online. Not one of the messages came from Amazon.
Second, I read an article about how credit card companies determine your credit score– not fully based upon how you pay or when you pay or if you missed payments– but also upon what you buy and where you buy it. By scanning the data they collect, credit card companies know how well you take care of your home, what neighborhood you live in, how healthy or unhealthy you may be. The list goes on.
Third, a new report says Apple wants to make the iPhone the center of our electronic health data (EHR, or electronic health records). As it stands now, most of us have health data stored here and there, scattered among a dozen so-called silos. Hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, drug stores, health insurers, and much more. For now, much of that data is fragmented, but attempts are underway to bring it together under a single roof, so to speak. That may seem like a plausible way to organize data for health care professionals, and keeping EHR on an iPhone seems like a good way to help you and health care professionals in an emergency.
I get that. It’s a plausible argument for centralized health records, and there are benefits to everyone involved.
What about drawbacks?
Credit card companies can determine the general health of a household or household member based upon credit card usage to clinics, doctor visits, pharmacies, and more. And if that data is collected into a single set of records, that means health insurers could gain similar access (if they are not already doing so through credit card companies which share customer information).
Apple’s iPhone and Watch already collect health data, including heart rate, steps walked, exercise routines, locations, time and frequency, and much more. Is it good to share such data with health care professionals? I think so. Is it good to share such data with insurance companies? Not if doing so will result in limited insurance coverage or higher rates. Yet, a centralized location for all the data being collected these days could result in faster diagnosis and warnings which could help prevent catastrophic health events.
What I want is access to my own EHR, wherever the data comes from, and an option to determine– on my own– which of that data can be shared with others, whether health care providers or insurance companies. That option doesn’t really exist today, and some sharing of health data already takes place without our knowledge. If Apple can capture all that EHR information, all of it, and make the iPhone the central repository with user controlled options to share any or all of it at our discretion, and provide sufficient safeguards to prevent leakage or theft, great. If not, the morass we have now will continue, so there is some danger in what Apple wants to do with capturing and storing personal health care data.