We’re all Being Watched. Get Used to It.

dataminingPersonal information has been collected on all of us for years. This is nothing new. But in recent months, the gathering of personal information has come to the forefront of the news, primarily in part to the Edward Snowden/NSA revelations. Concerns are now being raised about what kind of data is being collected, how much, and what it’ being used for.

Did you know that data mining is a multibillion-dollar industry? The term “Big Brother” has been taken to a whole new level in this digital age. It’s almost entirely impossible to not have an online profile of some sort (even if you don’t directly know it exists). Google yourself. I’m sure you’ll find information you didn’t realize was online.

For me, data mining isn’t necessarily “scary”, but it’s kind of creepy. To think that our every move online can be tracked, collected, and used by companies we have no official affiliation does seem extreme. Yet, at the same time if it means more targeted advertising reaches my computer screen, is that so bad? I’d rather see ads I find valuable. Wouldn’t you?

When it comes to organizations around the globe, such as the NSA or GCHQ, which claim to use data mining to learn more about intelligence and identify terrorists, I don’t take issue with data mining. The NSA blatantly claims it’s not monitoring the everyday happenings of common Americans. Whether you believe this or not, if the data helps the government keep our citizens safe why wouldn’t I support it. I’m not doing anything wrong, therefore I should not be worried.

laptop and stethoscopeI work for a healthcare organization, so as you can imagine we face ethical situations everyday. Protecting patient medical information is one of our highest priorities. In fact, it’s the law. But beyond that, we want our patients to feel comfortable and trust that we will protect their privacy. We’ve implemented an electronic medical record (EMR) system, with security processes in place to ensure a patient’s private information is never leaked or compromised. As you can imagine this is a more secure way of collecting and tracking health information than paper records.

When it comes to social media, we have an established policy concerning privacy. Our employees are not allowed to look up a patient’s medical record if they are not treating that patient. We do not allow for smartphone photos to be taken by our employees in our facilities (where a patient’s name could be written on a board in the background, etc.). We constantly monitor our social networks to make sure no patient information is posted. If a patient posts about their own personal health information (PHI), that is fine. We just want to make sure we do not weigh in on or further share that information.

Data mining is probably always going to be a controversial topic, as we struggle to maintain our privacy. I feel that as long as it’s being used in a valuable way (to protect others), I’m okay with it.