We often talk about how Health Tech data from a community of people has the potential to reveal valuable information about disease detection, diagnosis, and treatment, and how this sort of Big Data analytics could save money and lives. But there’s a potential darker side to this resource, as this same data could be even more valuable as a means of targeting consumers for marketing campaigns.
In an article for Marketing Magazine, author Simon Farthing questions the role that wearables could play in future sales and marketing strategies. He describes a “Pandora’s Box of ethical and strategic questions” that results from the collision between an individual’s privacy and commercial interests to deliver products and services more efficiently to consumers. It is hard to “depersonalize” individual data, especially if it is linked to basic demographic information (which is necessary to identify any useful patterns from the data). As a result, marketers could make very reasonable guesses as to which data belongs to an individual consumer. Knowing some simple biometric data about the person could reveal a wealth of behavioral and purchase patterns that could be exploited for marketing purposes.
You don’t need biometric data to do this; we already have the well-known incident where Target determined that a teenage girl was pregnant before her father knew, and started marketing baby products to her. Wearable Health Tech device data will provide an even richer vein of information that could be mined to target individual consumers. The issue is made more complex by the fact that one person’s junk mail is another person’s valuable information; it is possible that there is a benefit for the individual consumer to have more precisely-targeted marketing messages. (I know that I’m pretty tired of watching luxury car commercials, because I’m never going to be a potential customer for that product.)
Is this a problem that needs to be addressed through regulation or legislation, or is it a problem at all? All that is certain is that we’re in the early days, and we’ll have to watch closely to see how this aspect of the wearable Health Tech revolution develops.