Is digital health going to add to Digital Big Brother Watching You?

click to enlarge“They’re watching me on my phone. They’re watching me on Facebook. They’re even watching me when I want to hide. Machines are a form of intelligence, and they’re being built into everything.”–Dr Zeynep Tufekci

The world of digital health is largely based on tracking–via smartphones, wearables, watches–and analytics taking and modeling All That Data we generate. Are we in compliance with our meds? Are we exercising enough? How’s our A1c trending? Drinking our water? All this monitoring–online and offline–is increasingly of concern to Deep Thinkers like Dr Tufekci, a reformed computer programmer, now University of North Carolina assistant professor and self-proclaimed “techno-sociologist.” At IdeaFestival 2015, she took particular aim at Facebook (surprisingly, not at Google) for knowing a tremendous amount about us by our behavior, of course using it to anticipate and sell us on what we might want. The ethics of machine learning are still hazy and machines are prone to error, different than human error, and we haven’t accounted for machine error in our systems yet. Like that big health data that mistakes a daughter for her mother and drops critical health information from a patient’s EHR [TTA 29 Sep]. A thought-provoker to kick off your week. TechRepublic 

Related: The Gimlet Eye took a squint at Big Brother Gathering and Monetizing Your Big Blinking Data–data mining, privacy and employer wellness programs–back in 2013, which means the Eye and Dr Tufekci should get together for coffee, smartphones off of course. While Glass is gone, the revolt against relentless monitoring is well-dramatized in the well-watched video, ‘Uninvited Guests’. And we can get equally scared about AI–artificial intelligence–like Steve Wozniak. 

Categories: Latest News and Opinion.


  1. Kevin Goode

    I think it is dangerous to compare the intrusion of advertising, which we rarely have the choice to opt-out of,let alone opt-in, with health monitoring that requires us to opt-in. Also, the arguments for health monitoring are largely based on the need to reduce healthcare costs, one of the largest of which is the failure to comply with evidence based medicines. I have previously written a commentary on this see

    We need to keep some perspective by remembering that healthcare costs are set to rise dramatically due to the increase in chronic disease. A situation made worse by poor lifestyle choices coupled paradoxically with better treatment options. Can society (that means all of us) continue to shoulder the rocketing costs of healthcare? If people can be encouraged to firstly take better care of themselves and if they become ill, adhere to medication that can keep them well and out of hospital, then this has to be a good thing. If technology, monitoring and big data has a role to play in this then we should explore it.

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