Who’s Health Is It?

Regular readers will perhaps recall that I have written about State and corporate surveillance quite often in the past. My distaste for our lack of personal privacy — or, rather, the rapacious way in which our personal information is collected for other people’s use — is the reason I have never had a cell or smart phone, and is one of the reasons I don’t have a car, preferring the anonymity of public transit, cabs for cash, and walking.

Now we have another example of employers and health care corporations tracking, quite literally every breath you take.

“Welcome to a rapidly growing phenomenon in the workplace: constant health surveillance … Devices worn on employees’ bodies are an increasingly valuable source of workforce health intelligence for employers and insurance companies. It’s fueling a boom in the use of wrist-borne health and fitness monitors such as those made by Fitbit, Garmin and Apple … The ever-more-sophisticated devices are measuring not just steps and distance walked but also the hours a worker spends in a sedentary state, 24/7 heart rate, and sleep duration and quality …

But the volume of highly sensitive health data scooped up from individual employees is … raising privacy concerns and adding a new dimension to the relationship of workers and their employers. Often the information is not covered by federal rules that protect health records from disclosure. And when it’s combined with data such as credit scores, employees are giving up more insights about themselves than they realize …

[P]rivacy and workforce specialists warn the data could be abused to favor the healthiest employees while punishing or stigmatizing those who are less healthy, or who show signs of unhealthy behavior such as heavy drinking or drug use.” [emphasis added]

I’m certainly not the only one concerned about this:

““The Fitbit or Apple Watch applications . . . may yield clues to things about you that you are not even aware of, or not ready for other people to know,’’ said Electronic Frontier’s [Lee] Tien. “Individuals and consumers who are buying these devices don’t understand that is a potential consequence.’’

 

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