You are likely aware that data collection is rapidly becoming the most lucrative of ventures. It’s where a lot of venture dollars are getting invested into. Collecting data on people means that you can spend less marketing to them, sell more effectively to them, communicate easier with them, and know where to spend your future dollars in your business.
I understood the basic concept of ‘data collection’ but after some recent readings and research, I’m realizing how broad its reach is and specifically how it’s affected medicine.
As I was completing this post today I came across this bit of news where Amazon, one of biggest data kings, is entering the healthcare technology market and partnering up with a massive company to do so.
Paying The Consumer For Their Data
You obviously know that you are having your data mined on all the different websites you visit. But did you know that you are in fact being reimbursed for that data collection? Consumer rights groups are up in arms that the big bad wolves are stealing our data and we, as the consumer, aren’t getting anything in return nor have any control over it – this isn’t accurate.
We get to use services such as Gmail, Facebook, and Amazon for free or nearly free in return for advanced technology which would otherwise be impossible to develop without the top dollars obtained from data mining.
There are email services out there but none have the easy interface of Gmail. Gmail offers built-in encryption with every email you send and receive. In return, whatever information you transmit is collected and used for marketing.
Amazon and Gmail both offer free storage, tons of it – more storage means more data for them to digest. Facebook lets you connect, search, upload/store images on their servers at no cost. Each of these companies has mind numbing annual budgets and insane number of worldwide employees just to support these ventures.
How many of us have stopped to ask why Gmail is free. Not me, not until recently. Sure, I remember advertisement on my old Gmail iterations but that’s long gone. I don’t use Facebook but I’m guessing advertisement only pays a tiny part of their budget and as far as I recall it’s only a recent business model which FB started pursuing.
Should we continue giving our data for free to such companies? I mean, you don’t have anything to hide, do you?
Using Your Data Against You
It’s not really about what you have to hide, you can download all the porn you want, don’t worry, it’s not illegal. You can look up how to cheat on taxes, how to concoct a poison, and how to file a fake insurance claim. Privacy is a partial issue here but not the whole story. Even if what you’re doing online isn’t illegal, it is information which is stored somewhere. It’s information that someone coded into a hardware which some nerd has access to.
If that information is accessed inappropriately then it might hurt you socially or prevent you from getting a promotion at best. At worst, you enter credit card information and have a particular investing style or retirement plan.
If the ‘markets’ find out about this then could they exploit it? Absolutely. Stories are plentiful of airlines jacking their prices up for some customers based on their search criteria online and other factors. That’s an invasion of your privacy followed by financial exploitation.
You may not indicate in any way that you are African-American or a woman when hopping online to do a search for directions, but based on your habits and even the way you stroke the keys on your keyboard, data miners can determine your identifiers. Based on this, as you can imagine, your minority status can and most definitely will be exploited.
I have this thing where I don’t fill out ‘brief’ surveys for anyone unless they pay me to fill them out. I’ve always known that the data that’s collected from surveys is incredibly valuable. It’s not that I’m greedy, but if I don’t value my time then who will?
Where would I draw the line? Those brief little questions at the end of a phone call, after visiting a website, or the ones mailed to me… I don’t fill any of them out. The argument that such information is used to improve customer service is bogus. My feedback is used to optimize the money earning engine of the company. Customer retention and satisfaction is one part of that equation.
You could stop using services which mine data. If you want to go down that route then you’ll have to change a LOT of your habits. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, web browsers, apps, and websites all can collect data.
You can log into a website using a data-neutral browser just to have your data mined on your website-destination.
You could be using an data-neutral app on your iPhone while the phone itself is collecting your information.
Is it Worth the Battle?
Knowing that the NSA is spying on us, how careful do we need to be about the data collected from us by data mining companies? I don’t know the solution but I know that companies are out there to make money, lots of it. In that pursuit they will use any data available to them and companies such as Google and FB have the full right to use or sell such data to companies without my expressed permission.
You can fight back by adding layers of protection against data mining.
You can anonymize your identity before doing a search.
You can use hardware systems to help prevent companies from knowing exactly who they are collecting on.
You can use browsers and websites which won’t collect data.
I have recently done some research on this and I gotta say, it’s a lotta fucking work. Instead, I have decided that I’m okay with my data being collected but I won’t be naive about it. I also won’t allow one company to have all my business nor have only 1 employer.
As data collection intensifies it’s imperative for me to fight back by diversifying my income sources and investment options.
Protecting Your Data
In this data collection age, we have so much data that we don’t know what to do with it all. It’s not as bad as some pundits want to make it seem. There isn’t a really sophisticated system as of yet to really extract every useful bit of information from the data which you are creating every single minute of every single day. However, that’s what VC’s are trying to develop next – solid ways translate this data. They are creating the market for it.
It’s fairly difficult to protect financial data from data mining. I’ve read many concepts and unless you want to go underground and barter or deal only in real estate placed in irrevocable trusts it’s pretty much impossible. The average healthcare professional just couldn’t make something like that happen realistically.
Protecting some of our data is still worthwhile but by fully understanding the data collection process we also become more aware of our vulnerabilities.
Health insurance and other insurance companies are legally granted access to your medical information if you consent to insurance coverage.
Since companies can directly advertise to consumers and many individuals choose to have genetic testing done, it’s important to understand that such information can be used against you in the future.
It’s not just genetic information. Patients who are fighting to have unnecessary CT’s and MRI’s done are increasing their risk of not getting insurance coverage, such as disability coverage, should for example a small little benign cyst show up on one of the kidneys. This information can be used as a preexisting condition by the insurance company and black out your coverage.
Control Your Data
To opt out of data collection you have to take extensive steps which may or may not be worthwhile.
The free email account or free speech recognition capabilities means that your data is used in lieu of the free service. That includes Siri, Alexa, and Google Voice. Avoiding this is advisable.
When performing online searches you can use search engines which don’t mine your data such as Duckduckgo.com and you can avoid free email companies such as Yahoo or Gmail and choose Proton Mail instead which collects no data from its users.
Low-cost cell phone providers and mobile data companies also offset the cost of services by collecting and selling your data. The term ‘burner phone’ comes from consumers who choose to use untraceable cell phones for whatever reason.
I wrote about internet security in this other post, here.
The Big Picture
The reason I am writing this post on my personal finance blog is because companies are fighting hard to capture the data which patients share with their clinicians. As physicians we are pulled into the middle of this.
Large medical groups are paying hefty fines several times a year because of data breaches. It won’t be long until physicians too will have to answer for such cases.
It doesn’t matter if patients are just calling to report symptoms or to discuss changing their medications. It doesn’t matter if it’s a visit that’s done face to face or on the phone or through video – companies are setting up to collect this data.
This data is extremely valuable and the current fight is to figure out who it belongs to. Everything you type into Google Gmail is collected. Doesn’t matter how sinister or benign – it’s used to monitor trends and that’s what gives Google such an advantage over the competition.
As physicians we will be facing data collection issues in the clinic, the urgent care, the ER, and the OR. Whatever shape that will take is yet to be determined but it will undoubtedly affect malpractice, our incomes, the time we get per patient, and our career satisfaction.