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Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Security: The future is dark?

January 8th, 2015 by Peggy Aycinena

In October, IPextreme hosted a day-long meeting in San Jose to “Unlock the Mysteries of IP”. The morning started off with an hour-long panel discussion that touched at times on security. Not the security having to do with elusive and dangerous elements in this treacherous world, but that related to the more banal dangers of insurance companies.

In the emerging era of an IoT a’glitter with wearable gadgets for tracking our blood pressure, heartbeat, temperature, calorie consumption, steps per day, hours sleeping, and brain waves – those trendy connected devices pursued and celebrated by technologists on panels everywhere – three problems have emerged.

First, where in heck is all of this data going to be stored? Second, how is it going to be processed and determined to be normal or not? And finally, how can we be guaranteed that all of this data, particularly the abnormal stuff, will not be presented to our insurance companies, or other bureaucracies, without our permissions?

Clearly, the first two questions are within the charter of the Big Data Gurus to solve. Big Data is increasingly hard to store, because there’s just so much of it, and finding the patterns in Big Data is problematic for exactly the same reason. Nonetheless, the folks in industry and academia who work with Big Data continue to soldier on, constantly broadcasting their efforts so we will celebrate their courage and occasional successes.

Meanwhile, however, the third question remains unaddressed. The question of securing our bio-data and protecting the privacy of our health status from organizations who might hold that status against us.

It’s true, recently enacted Federal regulations disallow our being denied health insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Nonetheless, there are a host of different scenarios whereby less than-admirable health conditions – or habits – could be used against us to reduce our insurance benefits or alter the way or frequency with which our health care is delivered.

And that’s not just my paranoia speaking. One of the men on the IPextreme panel said as much, but with an ironic twist.

At the same time he was advocating that his elderly parent be kitted up with bio-data tracking wearables so as to notify family members and EMTs alike if a problem cropped up – medications hadn’t been taken on schedule, or a fall had been sustained – at the same time, the speaker was concerned that his own health data be kept private and secure, that his health habits not be turned over to his insurance company without his permission or knowledge.

The audience at the conference seemed attuned to these concerns; I sensed they were in agreement with the speaker’s sentiments. I also thought, not the first time, that the very people who are busy creating small-form factor devices to track everybody everywhere, are also concerned about the monstrous network of invasive data-tracking devices they are helping to create.

As the panel concluded, I was left with the impression that the struggle between civil liberties and security is both tremendously complex and ironic, and one that touches profoundly on wearable devices hooked up to the IoT.

When I arrived home at the end of the day, I found the irony of the panel discussion further compounded. In the mailbox was a letter from my insurance company politely informing me that I had 10 days to notify them in writing if I did not want my health files passed electronically on to a state-wide data-clearing center.

The letter was full of soothing verbiage about how the central warehousing of health data for millions of Californians would help deliver health care to all of us more effectively and accurately, and wasn’t that a wonderful thing. The letter was equally soothing in assuring me that all of my data would be secure within that state-wide warehouse.

Wow, I thought, as a society we are watching a nightmare unfold. Our bio-data is being tracked, often without our knowledge or permission, and that data is being relinquished with even less permissions to agencies we’ve never heard of, who may have our health and best interests at heart, but may also have as little success in protecting that data as Target or Morgan Stanley.

If ever there was a mystery that needs to be unlocked these days, it’s this one: How are we ever going to get control over this situation? Or is even asking the question an indication that it’s simply too late? Is privacy is a thing of the past? Will the greater good soon require mandated surveillance of us all, and a coordinated societal response to the health habits of each and every one of us?

The answers to these questions are unclear, the future may be dark indeed. Meanwhile, however, I’m going to eat another doughnut, have a cup of coffee, and go about my day. Such is the human condition in the here and now. I plan to enjoy it while it lasts.


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