Your Health Data Isn’t as Safe as You Think

Mr. Wilbanks, with Sage Bionetworks, says Google will be in a good position to start selling actuarial tables to insurance companies—like predictions on when a white male in his 40s with certain characteristics might be likely to get sick and expensive.

When it comes to life and disability insurance, antidiscrimination laws are weak, he says. “That’s what creates the risk of having one entity having a really godlike view of you as a person that can use it against you in ways you wouldn’t even know.”

That’s not a surprise, given how opaque the data-sharing industry has been to date. Earlier this year, I downloaded the What to Expect pregnancy app to see if Facebook would show me maternity ads. Sure enough, one popped up in my Instagram feed, thus ensuing a wild goose chase to try and figure out why I saw the ad.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which consumers have the ability to find out exactly how their health data is being used—especially if Google, in signing a business associate agreement and adhering to HIPAA, was under no obligation to tell patients or doctors that it was analyzing their health records.

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