Sacrificing Privacy for Convenience: Smartphones, Facebook… Pacemakers?

Every day we input personal information into smartphones, websites like Facebook, and web-powered devices like the fitbit. We willingly give up our data for the utility of maintaining relationships, the fun of playing location-based games, to save money via couponing services, and to keep track of our health. In all of these interactions we are giving up our valuable personal private information to third party profit-seeking institutions that are not highly restricted in the sharing of that information.

We have all swiftly clicked through now ubiquitous and all-encompassing terms of service, like the kind recently proposed by Instagram, where we give away all rights to the data we are providing. The cost of this abdication of ownership is, for each individual, almost negligible. So what if you don’t “own” your tweets? So what if your photos are used by facebook to advertise to your friends? So what if your location can now be tracked via your smartphone? Ah, now it gets tricky.

Medical professionals seek a future where clinicians remotely diagnose and monitor patients, made possible by apps on smartphones and ubiquitous wireless internet. While these services might provide tremendous utility, would you be as blasé about abdicating your rights to that data? As illustrated in a recent Wall Street Journal article, you don’t actually own, or have a legal right to see, the data being generated by the pacemaker implanted in your chest. And companies like Medtronic, Inc., which produces the defibrillator implants and collects data from them—that is, data about patients’ heart problems, collected from their chests—may eventually use this data for profit.

As a senior Medtronic executive, Ken Riff, stated in July at an industry event, this kind of data is “the currency of the future.”

So next time you see a Terms of Service, ask yourself, “What am I giving up for this service?” Current law hasn’t yet evolved to effectively protect you electronically. And f there’s no apparent cost, remember the axiom, “If you aren’t paying for the service, you are the product.”

by William Tatum