The technology of wearable devices makes them particularly powerful tools for data collection and digital marketing.

It’s time to dip into the technology file, and I’ve found a couple of articles that show us that scientists don’t always agree with each other. Two different teams have done research on one of technology’s hot new topics: wearables. And to say they don’t agree is putting it mildly.

Researchers at Stanford University followed 60 people through their everyday lives, and found that smart watches and other personal biosensor devices can help flag when people have colds and even signal the onset of complex conditions like Lyme disease and diabetes.

Smart watches and similar portable devices are commonly used for measuring steps and physiological parameters, but have not generally been used to detect illness. The Stanford team took advantage of the ease and portability of using wearable devices to collect a number of measurements from participants for up to two years. They detected deviations from the normal baseline, for measurements like heart rate and skin temperature. Because the devices continuously follow these measures, they potentially provide the means to detect the onset of diseases that change your physiology.

For instance, heart rate and skin temperature tend to rise when people become ill. The team wrote a software program called "Change of Heart" using smart watch data to detect these deviations and sense when people are becoming sick. The devices were able to detect common colds and in one case helped detect Lyme disease.

The study had several other interesting findings in addition to detecting illness. Individuals with insulin resistance, who are at high risk for Type 2 diabetes, are often unaware they have this risk factor. Biosensors could be developed that detect variations in heart rate patterns which tend to differ between those who are insulin resistant and those who are not.

Another find by the researchers has an impact for us here. The team found that blood oxygenation decreases during airplane flights. Although we already knew this, the authors were able to study the effects in greater detail using the smart watches. They discovered that reduced blood oxygenation occurs for a large fraction of a flight and that it’s associated with fatigue. Many people attribute jet lag to staying up late, a hectic work schedule, or the stress of travel. But it’s probable that cabin pressure and reduced oxygen are also contributors.

The Stanford team says the information collected by your wearables could aid your physician, although they expect some initial challenges in how to integrate the data into clinical practice. Patients may want to protect the privacy of their physiologic data or may want to share only some of it.

And that’s the crux of the problem, according to a different study conducted by researchers at American University. They say that personal health wearable devices used to monitor heart rates, sleep patterns, calories, and even stress levels raise new privacy and security risks. Watches, fitness bands, and “smart” clothing that are linked to apps and mobile devices, are part of a growing “connected-health” system in the U.S., promising to provide people with more efficient ways to manage their own health.

Their report, "Health Wearable Devices in the Big Data Era: Ensuring Privacy, Security, and Consumer Protection," found that weak and fragmented regulatory systems fail to provide adequate federal laws to safeguard the personal health information collected by wearables. The technology of wearable devices makes them particularly powerful tools for data collection and digital marketing.

The report explains how an emerging set of techniques and Big Data practices are being developed to harness the data collection capabilities of wearables, like the biosensors that track bodily functions. Pharmaceutical companies are poised to be among the major beneficiaries of wearable marketing.

The report offers suggestions for how government, industry, philanthropy, nonprofit organizations, and academic institutions can work together to develop a comprehensive approach to health privacy and consumer protection in the era of Big Data and the Internet of Things. These include clear and enforceable standards for the collection and use of information, formal processes to assess the benefits and risks of data use; and stronger regulation of direct-to-consumer marketing by pharmaceutical companies.

The report states that unless there are adequate regulatory safeguards in place, consumers and patients could face serious risks to their privacy and security, and be subjected to discrimination and other negative outcomes.

The report states, “Americans now face a growing loss of their most sensitive information, as their health data are collected and analyzed on a continuous basis and combined with information about their finances, ethnicity, location, and online and off-line behaviors. Policy makers must act decisively to protect consumers in today's Big Data era.”

Although I can see the health benefits, I can also see some really scary drawbacks to sharing this very private information. We’re long past 1984, but George Orwell may be right about “Big Brother”!

Cruise on over to The Deep website at to learn more about wearables and many other topics. Enjoy!

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