Factual logoA start-up company called Factual was profiled in the Wall Street Journal on December 11, 2015. Factual profiles consumers using mobile devices based on the digital dust users’ apps create — “streams of location data supplied by apps,” as Elizabeth Dwoskin (@lizzadwoskin), author of the article, put it.

The primary goal? To help publishers finely target ads to specific audiences.

“If we know you go to the gym five times a week,” Lindy Jones of the Goodway Group is quoted, “it’s likely you’ll be interested in workout gear.”

Factual garnered $35 mm of additional funding last week, “to make data accessible to all,” the company’s press release noted. “All” refers to “anyone who needs it to build a better app, provide a better search result, make smarter software, make a better decision, or help others make better decisions,” the press release said.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Location-based data can be very useful for health care applications. A pioneer of using such app-generated data for health is Ginger.io, which, for example, can identify people at-risk for depression by mashing up user-generated data — especially what it can mean when a person’s phone is at rest over a long period of time. Ginger.io has proven how to mine peoples’ digital dust for the purposes of managing behavioral health — arguably a very positive application for personal and public health.

In my paper, Here’s Looking at You: How Personal Health Information is Being Tracked and Used, published by California HealthCare Foundation, I explain how peoples’ digital footprints can be used for purposes of bolstering health and wellbeing, as well as used by third party data brokers for use well beyond the original contextual gathering of that information or individual’s understanding of where the data is “going.”

The more app-ified our lives become, as consumers adopt and enjoy just-in-time convenience of fast-mapping, instructions, conversing, socializing, and reserving restaurant tables, the more data we are generating that can be triangulated for “good” and “not-so-good.” Consumers generally don’t read privacy policies when accepting downloads of apps. Those policies often assert that the app developer may not know “where” the consumers’ data goes, which may include folks that consumers may implicitly believe can use the data for the person’s benefit, and corporations using it for targeted advertising or, say, to mash up into a FICO score that could be used in a future mortgage or auto loan transaction.

CTA logoTo help deal with this challenge especially for health and wellness, the Health and Fitness Division of the Consumer Technology Association (formerly called the Consumer Electronics Association) developed Guiding Principles on the Privacy and Security of Personal Wellness Data. These cover recommendations for:

  • Security measures
  • The provision of transparent information on the use of data collection, storing and sharing, especially when transferring data to unaffiliated third parties
  • Consumers’ ability to control and review their personal wellness data
  • The ability to opt out of advertising, and
  • Disclosing the organization’s protocols for law enforcement requests.

The Guiding Principles in detail can be downloaded here.

Consumers, and health consumers specifically, are already in the thick of the user-generated data aggregation era, when it comes to apps, location-based data, retail receipts, and check-ins on social networks like Facebook, FourSquare, et. al. The benefits of using personally-generated data, and in particular information on each of our social determinants of health (food and nutrition, exercise and activity, mood and mental health, financial stress or wellness, and other non-healthcare system inputs), have a huge role to play in improving health care outcomes in a resource-constrained world. The more consumers can trust the parties using their data “for good,” the more likely people will be generous sharers of their data, in sickness and in health. The CTA’s Guiding Principles are a good start to helping bolster consumers’ trust in digital health tools, wearables, and mobile platforms.