Technology that Diminishes Privacy

Health Tracking Devices and Software

Health tracking devices and services are hardware and software products that resemble devices such as watches and software such as mobile and desktop software applications. These devices are intended to help people manage their lifestyles on a personal level for customized healthcare. They allow users to monitor their health and track changes throughout the day. Some products are worn by users such as MyTrek , which allow biological information to be tracked automatically, while others are mobile and desktop applications, which allow users to enter information as the day progresses. These health tracking devices are capable of tracking “simple” data such as the steps walked per day, calories burned, weight gained and lost, food intake while others are more sophisticated that can track heart rate, respiration, glucose level, medication and even health insurance information .

Red Cell Phone by Marina Shemes

Red Cell Phone by Marina Shemes

There are several features that attract users. These devices allow users to upload their data either in a secure location or share it publicly with other users using social media services such as Facebook. Moreover some allow families to record their family information online and share their family information using social media . Other products and services create personalized health plans and setup reminders to help their users meet their goals. Likewise some devices even have exercise routines built in that users can perform based on their personal needs and habits . There exist products that are specially designed for people with specific illnesses, like diabetes, that help users, especially children, make choices with confidence by providing guidance .

There are a variety of users including institutions. For example some school districts in Missouri, New Jersey and Long Island have employed these devices in their schools to tackle obesity. However, parents, Civil Liberties Union and the community members are outraged over the monitoring and collection of biological data of the students . However, the same products are also used by parents to control and manage their children’s health .

Health tracking products are an example of information technology that diminishes privacy. When health related information is uploaded and shared with family and friends, users risk having their data shared with agencies and organizations that may sell or rent the data. The data that is collected by these products is extremely valuable for determining certain factors such as life and critical illness insurance premiums. Some situations, such as schools, were the health of individuals is monitored from an early age, provide a very comprehensive collection of data that can be used to extrapolate and determine, based on probability, the likelihood of an individual developing certain diseases and illnesses. This creates a scenario where the probabilities will unfairly merit high insurance premiums, prejudice, etc. to the individuals.


Furthermore, on numerous occasions, the users are unaware of the sensitive data that is gathered about them and do not understand data security, storage and usage other than within the product they have purchased. This lack of knowledge and or enthusiasm towards personal privacy by the users benefits the vendors and reduces accountability. Users may, unknowingly, forfeit their privacy rights.

Advertisement in Free Electronic Mail Service: Gmail by Google

Some free email providers constantly display advertisements to their users. Google is a provider of free electronic mail called Gmail. Gmail is notorious for its aggressive advertisement targeting algorithms. Advertisements in Gmail are similar to the advertisements in Google search but the advertisements in Gmail are related to the content of the user’s email and chat conversations. This is the same technology that powers Google’s AdSence program . Google’s goal is to provide a customized user experience so that the advertisements reflect the user’s needs and are relevant to their users. For example they display advertisement to their users about events, deals and coupons from their locality. If a user were to identify a particular email and its contents as spam or junk, then Google is less likely to display future advertisements similar to that topic. Google is trying to give its users a more custom made experience by providing advertisements on their user’s habits rather than the content of their emails and chat conversations. They have claimed to reduce the number of advertisements sent to their clients by one third using this strategy. The process is “fully” automated so no human being is ever to read them the emails and the chat conversations.

Google claims that they will never sell or rent information about their users that is identifiable and that their ads are Family-Safe. This implies that they do sell and rent their user’s information but they ensure that the users are not identifiable.

” Google does not and will never rent, sell or share information that personally identifies you for marketing purposes without your express permission. No email content or other personally identifiable information will be provided to advertisers. We provide advertisers only aggregated non-personal information … Only ads classified as Family-Safe are distributed to your Gmail inbox.”

Google’s extensive scanning of personal emails and chat conversations and aggressive advertisement targeting strategy is an example of information technology that diminishes privacy. Google claims to never rent of sell identifiable information, which does not mean that they never rent or sell information about their users, rather they will never identify their users. Similarly, most users misunderstand Google’s privacy policy and assume their emails are only scanned for malicious content. It is evident that Google collects and stores data about its users due to the patterns of advertisements displayed per account. However, users do not know how Google markets their stored data.

Email is used by people for a variety of needs and very often users convey private and confidential matters and data via email. Private and confidential emails are intended to be read on a need to know basis, which excludes vicious advertisement targeting algorithms. Users do not expect, and generally do not want, computer algorithms to monitor and classify them based on sensitive data and personal habits.

Next: Technology that Enhances Privacy

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