There’s No Such Thing as Innocuous Personal Data

Why you should keep your heart rate, sleep patterns, and other seemingly boring info to yourself.

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Media Outlet: Slate

Elizabeth Weingarten wrote for Future Tense on Slate about personal data and privacy:

It’s 2020, and a couple is on a date. As they sip cocktails and banter, each is dying to sneak a peek at the other’s wearable device to answer a very sensitive question.
What’s his or her heart rate variability?
That’s because heart rate variability, which is the measurement of the time in between heartbeats, can also be an indicator of female sexual dysfunction and male sexual dysfunction.
When you think about which of your devices and apps contain your most sensitive data, you probably think about your text messages, Gchats, or Reddit account. The fitness tracking device you’re sporting right now may not immediately come to mind. After all, what can people really learn about you from your heart rate or your step count?
More than you might think. In fact, an expanding trove of research links seemingly benign data points to behaviors and health outcomes. Much of this research is still in its infancy, but companies are already beginning to mine some of this data, and there’s growing controversy over just how far they can—and should—go. That’s because like most innovations, there’s a potential bright side, and a dark side, to this data feeding frenzy.

Author:

Elizabeth Weingarten is the director of the Global Gender Parity Initiative, a project of the Better Life Lab where she is a senior fellow.