Crossing The Creepiness Line

“’He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good. (The last line is the lesson for today’s and tomorrow’s age) So be good for goodness sake.’ There is no longer any question about how he knows. He knows. We are dealing with an out-of-control beast that is in its infancy and we haven’t seen anything yet. This is the beginning, not the end.“  Michael Carnell, Ethics Daily

We live in a world without privacy.  There is very little you do on a daily basis that isn’t captured and sold to someone.  Information compiled by data brokers from public records, credit cards, debit card transactions and store discount cards have become just another means for the nanny state to spy on you. 

Every time you use one of those plastic cards, make a cell phone call, log into social media, research a topic on line, subscribe to a magazine, file an insurance claim, strap on your Fitbit, visit a pharmacy, or go for your yearly physical, you are exposing your lifestyle and your weaknesses to data brokers who are selling information on you to anyone willing to pay for it.  And all too often, those purchasing that information are your local hospitals, and health insurance companies.

Do you eat too much junk food? Are you a closet smoker? Do you hit happy hour after work? Did you let your gym membership lapse? Things that seem very innocent such as what cable television package you subscribe to can be matched with what clothing size you wear and what food you buy to create an impression of your lifestyle.  Health insurance companies could look at this data and determine that you are a big fat guy that sits around on the couch all day watching television, eating junk food and sucking down beer which will lead to higher premiums or the determination that they won’t insure you because you’re a bad risk.   Life insurance companies and auto insurance companies do the very same thing.

Carolinas HealthCare System operates the largest group of medical centers in North and South Carolina with more than 900 care centers, including hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, and surgical centers. Using the information they buy from data brokers they are setting up a system where your doctor can “reach out” to “suggest” ways for you to become healthier.  He will be able to “check” and see if you have filled or refilled your medications, and whether your lifestyle is suitable for your health needs.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center with more than 20 hospitals and a health insurance plan, is already using demographic and household information to meddle in the lives of those unfortunate enough to be associated with the Center. They collect data on whether or not you own a car, how many people live in your home, how much you make, etc. They justify their snooping because studies show that people without children who make less than $50,000 a year are the most likely to use the emergency room rather than a private doctor. If they can force you into having a primary care doctor or nurse practitioner they can save money.

Just because you don’t live in Pennsylvania or in the Carolinas doesn’t mean you’re safe from the nanny state.   I can almost guarantee you that this goes on in every state.   Not only must you now be selective about what personal information you want passed on to the world, you must be careful what you charge on that plastic.  Try using cash and stay away from those value cards being pushed on you from every merchant in town.  Sure they may save you a few bucks but at what cost?

Did you know that if you feel a prescription at a pharmacy they have the right to sell that information under existing HIPPA regulations as long as they do not provide your name?  And they do this so that pharmaceutical companies can target you, through the pharmacy, with propaganda about their new drugs or clinical trials.

In addition to selling information about its users, Facebook purchases data from a number of third party data brokers including those that offer data points for targeting advertisements to specific medical conditions. Let’s say you wake up one morning with a rash on your butt.  Your first reaction is not to post a picture of the rash for your friends to see.  Perhaps that is the wrong statement to make because I have seen a lot of strange stuff posted on line so let’s just say that the normal reaction of most sane people would be to research the rash, to find out what it might be and how to get rid of it. Guess what ends up in your Facebook data capture?

Adam Tanner, in his book Our Bodies, Our Data, explains that basically any interaction you have with the health care system becomes public record in one form or another.  That anonymized medical information from your doctor visit is a commercial product, especially now that almost 90% of doctors are linked up to electronic health records.   Blood tests, lab tests, x-rays, CAT scans, medications, etc.  – anything processed through various insurance forms can and will be sold.

And for those that have never seen an APP they don’t like – beware.   Most of those “free” Apps collect and sell that data to anyone willing to pay for it, data that includes names, addresses, and GPS locations, Even DMV sells data that includes the type of vehicle you drive, along with names and addresses and your political party affiliation.

Don’t you just love technology?

Sources:  How Data Brokers and Pharmacies Commercialize our Medical Data, by Kaley Leetaru, Forbes;  Your Medical Data is for Sale and There’s Nothing You Can Do About It, by Aaron Sankin, Reveal, The Center for Investigative Reporting

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