Google’s $2 billion acquisition of Fitbit last month has been met with concern from privacy advocates worried about how the tech giant will use personal fitness data. This reaction prompted the tech giant to clarify that the acquisition is “about devices, not data.”
The deal has brought to light a larger issue that we all seem to gloss over: Every day, millions of people publicly share seemingly innocuous personal health information with many stakeholders, including employers, insurance companies, providers and even publicly on the Internet.
This becomes especially concerning during a time when there are literally hundreds of clinical studies, some of them with hundreds of thousands of participants, that may request permission to use the same fitness-tracker data to study everything from obesity to COVID-19 symptoms. In the service of public health, many of these datasets are then made publicly available to allow other researchers to reproduce their research or perform new research. But this is not a risk-free situation.
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