In an increasingly always-on, connected world, it’s easy to assume that everyone reaps the benefits of technological advances. Unfortunately, technology has not changed the fact that the rich continue to get richer, while the poor get exploited.

The technology revolution in the healthcare field is big business. Care providers and patients look forward to better health outcomes, and speculators look forward to better profits.

A growing number of disruptive healthcare startups are risking it all on new digital technologies, and they had the money to back up their ambition. In 2018, speculators poured $8.1 billion into healthcare startups – nearly double the investment of 2017.

Current Sentiments About Data Privacy

As the technology revolution unfolds in the healthcare field, ethics are a growing concern. Nevertheless, 77% of surveyed American consumers say that they will willingly share their health information in exchange for better treatment outcomes.

Also, 86% of responding consumers believe that companies are responsible for informing users when collecting health information. 25% of respondents believe that browsing recommendations are ethical, and 24% believe the same about personalized news feeds.

In some cases, enterprises have successfully delivered personalized digital content without collecting personal data. Healthcare provider portals, for instance, provide highly beneficial information without collecting personally identifiable information.

The same applies to select health network websites. As an example, Jefferson Health analyzes anonymous website traffic to provide readers with content recommendations while they’re still on the site – and without the need to collect consumer data.

You Can Have Privacy – for a Price

In a written exposé, U.S. lawyers argued that innovative technologies necessitate consumer privacy protections. Nearly a century and a half later, ‘The Right to Privacy’ – penned by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis – is more relevant than ever before. The internet has enabled a level of privacy infringement that would’ve been unfathomable to the two wealthy lawyers.

The 2018 Cambridge analytical debacle, which involved the compromise of the data of 87 million Facebook users, is precisely the kind of abuse raised the concern of the lawyers. However, the incident harmed a number of individuals that astronomically eclipsed any imagining of the nation’s first advocates for consumer privacy.

Nevertheless, the Cambridge Analytica scandal is but one of many massive data breaches that have led to mistrust between consumers and companies – especially enterprises such as Facebook that broker information to anyone who can foot the bill.

The increasing velocity and volume of data breach incidents have given birth to the commercialization of consumer privacy. Now, the “right to be left alone” argued for nearly 150 years ago still exists – but it’s not free.

Essentially, the commercialization of data has elevated privacy to a luxury item. The practice continues the long tradition of businesses and government agencies effectively discriminating against low-income individuals via invasion of privacy.

One Way That Data Can Help

Studies show that one in every 20 people has tried illicit drugs. Addiction is a debilitating problem for many people around the world.

Hypothetically, physicians could use data to monitor and develop customized treatment plans for drug addicts. However, most individuals in the throes of addiction can’t afford monitoring devices such as wearables.

There are, however, currently some technological solutions intended to help with addiction. Although most are free or inexpensive, they do little in the way of generating data that researchers can use to discover opportunities to mitigate the global addiction problem.

There are many free or no cost apps designed to help people in recovery. For example, users can download the Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book” in the Apple iTunes Store, and Sober Grid enables consumers to find geographically-based support immediately. Other apps designed to help addicts have video functions with which users can consult with physicians instantaneously.

In the face of many social ills, some of the health apps used by modern consumers seem frivolous. At the same time, however, physicians and researchers use the massive information generated by wearable health devices to improve wellness outcomes for society.

According to Dr. Kislaya Prasad, research professor and academic director of the Center for Global Business at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, people from low socioeconomic groups have always been disadvantaged when it comes to access to health care.

“This is especially true when it comes to preventive care and the management of chronic conditions. The move towards digital health is likely to make things worse.”

The data gap in the United States has become such a glaring issue that U.S. officials have assembled a task force to address accessibility issues for low-income and rural constituents. More legislators recognize that internet access and smartphone ownership are viable solutions for underserved populations, rather than an unnecessary luxury.

Healthcare technology manufacturers promote their offerings as a remedy for socioeconomic disparity and the growing physician shortage. In theory, technology as a solution to social ills is a beautiful concept. In practice, technology firms invest few resources into serving the needs of vulnerable populations.

In 2019, the average price for a quality smartphone is over $500. It seems that the rich will continue to reap the benefits of technology, while they collect and sell the data of the poor.

“Wearable devices and apps to manage chronic conditions are likely to be used disproportionately by the wealthy. We are moving towards a world where a constant flow of personal data (from devices around us) will be used to provide personalized care. The advantages of these new technologies are more likely to flow to the rich. There is a bigger danger here – that new treatments and discoveries will be based on the analysis of this data,” says Dr. Prasad.

The Worst May Have Yet to Come

As the data revolution proliferates every field and industry, new problems emerge. A research paper composed for the Carnegie Endowment for National Peace suggests that disruptive innovations will transform the functioning of society.

Emerging innovations promise to provide substantial social and economic benefits. However, there’s growing concern about how individuals will use that technology.

Consumer advocates warn of labor force displacement due to automation and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Meanwhile, government officials face new threats to public safety and national security.

There’s tension brewing in society. The potential to abuse technological innovation is massive – as highlighted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other unfortunate cyber events. While consumers marvel at the capabilities of emerging technologies, they also fear how malicious actors and profiteers will abuse innovations for personal gain.

In a sense, technology is making the world smaller. Resultantly, the negative outfall of innovation is a global issue.

Innovations are emerging at a breakneck pace. Technology is changing everything, and a seemingly endless number of stakeholders are shaping the technological environment of the future – as well as the laws that govern technology.

Only time will tell if the mechanisms in place to ensure the welfare of society can keep up with the latest technological revolution.

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