Wearable Electronics Could Spark Healthcare IT Concerns

This is only the beginning.

News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch told an audience at a Sydney-based think tank that he wears a bracelet for monitoring his vitals.

“I now wear a Jawbone,” he said, referring to the Jawbone Up around his wrist, according to a transcript provided by The Sydney Morning Herald. “This is a bracelet that keeps track of how I sleep, move and eat—transmitting that information to the Cloud. It allows me to track and maintain my health much better.” His family, he added, is privy to the bracelet’s trove of health data: “It encourages more personal and social responsibility—instead of just running to the doctor when we don’t feel well.”

Murdoch sees that technology as going more mainstream in coming years. “Soon we will have similar watches and apps that keep track of our heart rate, our blood sugar, our brain signals,” he said. “When this information is coupled with what is available on the Internet, it will mean the ability to diagnose and suggest treatments—instantly.”

That will allow people to live longer, sure, but it could also open new avenues of research for medical companies, giving them the ability to analyze the data from thousands (or even millions) of devices and using the insights to refine services. For the past several quarters, everyone from app-builders to enormous healthcare conglomerates have advocated the rise of data analytics as a medical tool; IBM, for example, is deploying its Watson supercomputing platform to oncology centers at various hospitals around the country.

But if Murdoch’s prediction comes true, and millions of people end up wearing bracelets, smartwatches and other devices capable of sending a constant stream of personal-health data into the cloud, it could raise significant privacy and security concerns. In order to prevent terrorists from remotely monkeying with his implanted heart defibrillator, former vice president Dick Cheney ordered his doctors to install hardware without any WiFi support; while it’s unlikely that an interloper with access to an individual’s most intimate health information could cause that sort of immediate damage, a stolen dataset could nonetheless become weaponized in the wrong hands. You could blackmail someone trying to hide a cancer diagnosis or heart condition from employers and family, for instance.

But drama aside, the idea of a flood of health metrics streaming from wearable electronics could (and probably should) spark a debate about how best to secure and lock down that data, especially as the underlying hardware inevitably becomes more sophisticated.


Image: Jawbone