We all hear constantly how technology and “big data” might solve all of the world’s problems, and often anyone raising privacy concerns is written off as alarmist.
But according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, our fears are probably justified. The piece details employers’ attempts to cut health-care costs by using the aforementioned “big data” to predict which employees might soon come down with serious (read: expensive) conditions. Think cancer, diabetes, back problems.
This is alarming, of course! Your employer, even when it subsidizes part of your insurance, is not legally entitled to detailed information about your health — that’s private, protected information between you, your doctors, and your health-insurance company. But recently, companies looking to cut costs have been hiring third parties to contract the work of mining all this data for them.
And buried in the post is this gem:
“To determine which employees might soon get pregnant, Castlight recently launched a new product that scans insurance claims to find women who have stopped filling birth-control prescriptions, as well as women who have made fertility-related searches on Castlight’s health app.”
Excuse me? Hello? But to continue:
“That data is matched with the woman’s age, and if applicable, the ages of her children to compute the likelihood of an impending pregnancy, says Jonathan Rende, Castlight’s chief research and development officer. She would then start receiving emails or in-app messages with tips for choosing an obstetrician or other prenatal care. If the algorithm guessed wrong, she could opt out of receiving similar messages.”
Okay okay. Let’s take a deep breath and get to what’s really going on here before freaking out. Reread and see what all of this actually means.
Yeah, no: Still WTF.