#CyberFLASH: Privacy Commissioner Targets IoT Health Devices in Sweep

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What rumours is your fitness tracker spreading about you? In its latest Internet of Things themed sweep, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada reviews what personal information is being collected about Canadians by “smart” health and fitness devices.

Many of us will remember Time Magazine’s audaciously titled September 2013 issue, which splashed the following headline across its cover page: “Can Google Solve Death?”

At the time, there were more than a few skeptics who might have dismissed Google’s investment in Calico, a biotech subsidiary, as another moonshot investment by the tech giant or as part of a long-term expansion strategy.

Fast-forward less than three years. Regulators continue to play catch-up with the burgeoning industry at the intersection of data analytics and user-generated personal health data. The ballooning number of connected devices that make up the so-called internet of things (“IoT”) has accelerated in scale at a heart-clutching rate. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (“OPC”) quoting estimates that, by 2020, there will be between 20 and 30 billion connected devices.[1] While devices that generate data specific to the function and use of the human body represent a subset of these devices, it is hard to deny the growth in the sophistication and potential use (and misuse) of the datasets generated from users’ health and biometric data.

Connected health technology has come a long way since the days of telephonic medical alert systems infamously portrayed in infomercials featuring “help, I’ve fallen” pushbutton necklaces. While application driven smart-phones, watches and fitness wearables are top of mind, the healthcare industry has adopted a range of smart devices that quietly gather and amass a steady stream of data about their users: baby monitors, respiratory and glucose meters, scales, pillboxes, thermometers, contact lenses, heart-monitors, and even band-aids are but a few of the previously inert devices that have become IoT-enabled. For individual consumers, health practitioners, and public health officials, there are extremely compelling use cases to prevent regulatory authorities from stifling the innovation in this sector. For individual patients and clinicians, the devices open what was previously a black-box allowing insight into the lives of individuals outside a clinical setting. The data gathered will enable the healthcare industry to open new service lines focusing on early detection and intervention as well as ongoing health monitoring. Similarly, public health authorities can benefit from large-N data-mining that could potentially offer new insights into determinants of disease, healthy aging processes, and general population wellness.

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