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What to Consider Before Trading Your Health Data for Cash

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After I signed up for my insurance plan, I got an email with a link to a “wellness program” that, if I traded some health data — such as steps from a pedometer or smartwatch exercise data — could earn me a small monthly payout and some gift cards. But the second I logged in, I felt paranoid about the whole thing.

If you work for a company with employer-sponsored health insurance, there’s a chance you’ve come across wellness programs such as UnitedHealthcare Motion, Humana Go365, Attain by Aetna, and Vitality (The New York Times offers Vitality to its employees).

Each program works similarly, offering some type of discount or financial incentive in exchange for reaching goals, usually verified by requesting health data collected by a phone or fitness tracker. Insurance companies offer these programs to encourage people to begin or maintain healthy habits, like eating well and exercising, thus reducing health care costs. Employers offer them as a way to provide financial rewards you can use toward the cost of insurance or gift cards.

Financial rewards and gift cards are tantalizing incentives, but you shouldn’t make the choice to trade away your health data without considering the potential issues first.

The laws surrounding health data are complex, and your wellness program may not include the data privacy you expect.

The health information you share with insurance companies, H.M.O.s, health care providers, or company health plans is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which helps keep your data private. But not all workplace wellness programs are covered by HIPAA.

If a program or wearable tracking device is covered by HIPAA, your employer will never have access to the data collected, but if HIPAA doesn’t apply, you’re trusting those entities to not share the data with your employer, third-party ad agencies, or anyone else. Without HIPAA, a wellness program (or, more accurately, the operator or administrator behind it) may sell the health information it collects, which could put you at risk of having your data used against you or unlawfully in some way.

Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, told me, “The best thing to do is take a close look at the privacy policy for that program. If it is a HIPAA-covered program, they’re going to have something called a Notice of Privacy Practices.” Look for phrases like “your rights under HIPAA,” “Notice of Privacy Practices,” or “NPP” in the privacy policy.

“If you see the term ‘we are HIPAA-compliant,’ the basic rule of thumb is the program does not fall under HIPAA,” Ms. Dixon added.

Yes, it’s confusing — although a program may call itself compliant, that doesn’t mean it’s regulated, she said. If it’s not covered by HIPAA, that opens the door for any data you provide to potentially be shared with third parties for advertising and marketing purposes.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also adds this distinction: If a wellness program is offered as part of a group health plan, your information is protected by HIPAA rules; if the wellness program is offered directly by an employer, the information is not protected.

When I asked Anna Slomovic, Ph.D., a data management and policy consultant, about this, she told me, “You have to remember when data is shared between organizations, what is happening is the data is copied and the copy is handed over. So one copy may be covered by HIPAA and the other copy may not be.” This could include data from the devices you track activity with, like a Fitbit, where the data is covered only by Fitbit’s privacy policy — unless it gets moved over to a HIPAA-covered entity or someone acting on its behalf.

Health data is some of the most private data you have, so it’s worth being mindful of where that information is shared and how it could be used. You may not have an issue sharing the number of steps you take on your pedometer, but consider what other data your fitness tracker might gather.

Referencing a chapter from the 2017 book, “Under Observation: The Interplay Between eHealth and Surveillance,” Dr. Slomovic showed how much data wearable devices, apps, and health portals collected. Even in 2014, this information ranged from location history to the modes of transport wearers tend to use.

As to how your health data could be used, we can all imagine the worst-case scenarios of sharing info about our eating, dieting, and exercising habits (or lack thereof) with insurance companies, but it’s what we haven’t thought of yet that’s more worrisome.

“You don’t think this data means anything, and then all the sudden somebody else takes the data and rearranges it, and all the sudden it’s a big deal,” Dr. Slomovic pointed out. We’ve already seen some surprising ways that fitness data can be repurposed, like when Nathan Ruser, a student at Australian National University, used data from the fitness app Strava to reveal the locations of military bases.

Many wellness programs ask you to complete surveys and risk assessments to earn points. These surveys may also ask questions you’re not comfortable answering, like whether you plan to get pregnant in the next year or two. There’s not much to gain from sharing this type of info, and you should avoid doing so — you don’t have to answer every question.

If your family is covered by your health plan, it’s important to consider their privacy as well, especially your children. Make sure your children don’t fill out any health surveys that aren’t covered by HIPAA, and watch out for programs that overreach for their data (and your partner’s, too).

Even if you trust all these companies to never share your health information, don’t forget about the possibility of data breaches.

In a paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (subscription required), researchers found that 71 percent of 1,461 reported data breaches at hospitals between October 2009 and July 2019 included sensitive info, such as patient names, addresses, email addresses, or other personal identifiers. These breaches exposed millions of people to the risk of identity theft or financial fraud.

Wellness programs are often marketed as a way for you to earn money, but you can also view your participation as a cost.

[Like what you’re reading? Sign up here for the Smarter Living newsletter to get stories like this (and much more!) delivered straight to your inbox every Monday morning.]

Still, the financial benefits are hard to ignore. Though it’s important to consider the potential issues, participating in a wellness program is not universally bad. Aside from considering HIPAA coverage, it’s best to steer clear of participating in programs that ask for more info than you’re comfortable sharing (like genetic test results) or that pay based on specific outcomes, like weight loss.

Beyond that, Dr. Slomovic suggested considering two questions: Do you have a choice in the first place, whether you can afford to not be in these programs, both financially and in terms of being seen as a team player? And if you can afford to choose, do you care what’s going to happen to that data?

If you don’t like the potential that your data could be used in ways you don’t like, you should avoid these programs. If you’re still undecided, Ms. Dixon recommended using what she calls the “five analysis” to decide whether a program is worth it for you: “How does it impact you five days from now, five months from now, and five years from now?”

Even if you’re comfortable assuming data security risks — and you consider yourself “healthy” — there’s always the possibility that your health status could change during the course of your participation in any wellness program.

Sign up for the Wirecutter Weekly Newsletter and get our latest recommendations every Sunday.

A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.



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Appeals Court docket Says Uber and Lyft Will have to Deal with California Drivers as Workers

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Uber and Lyft should deal with their California drivers as workers, offering them with the advantages and wages they’re entitled to underneath state hard work regulation, a California appeals courtroom dominated Thursday.

The verdict issues to rising settlement between the state courts and lawmakers that gig employees don’t have the independence vital for them to be thought to be contractors.

The ruling through the California First District Court docket of Enchantment is the results of a lawsuit introduced through California’s legal professional basic and town legal professionals of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. The state and town businesses sued the ride-hailing firms in Would possibly to implement a brand new state hard work regulation that aimed to make gig employees into workers.

After a decrease courtroom dominated that Uber and Lyft should in an instant comply and rent the drivers, the corporations fought again. They threatened to close down totally in California and appealed the verdict, successful a last-minute reprieve from the appellate courtroom whilst it thought to be the case.

Uber and Lyft didn’t in an instant reply to requests for remark Thursday night time, however are not likely to threaten a equivalent shutdown. The appellate courtroom required them to expand plans to make use of drivers in case the ruling didn’t cross of their want.

“When violation of statutory place of work protections takes position on an enormous scale, as alleged on this case, it reasons public hurt over and above the non-public hobby of any given particular person,” the courtroom wrote in its resolution on Thursday.

State officers have argued that the corporations should agree to the regulation, referred to as Meeting Invoice 5, in order that employees can download unwell go away, additional time and different advantages — wishes that experience turn out to be particularly urgent right through the pandemic.

“Each and every different employer follows the regulation,” Matthew Goldberg, deputy town legal professional with the San Francisco Town Lawyer’s Administrative center, advised the appeals courtroom right through arguments final week. “That is bucks and wages and cash this is being stolen from drivers through distinctive feature of the misclassification.”

However Uber and Lyft have argued that they’re era firms, no longer transportation companies. Using drivers would drive them to lift fares and rent just a small fraction of the drivers who recently paintings for them, they stated.

The corporations are sponsoring a poll initiative to exempt them from the regulation and make allowance them to proceed classifying drivers as impartial contractors. The courtroom gave Uber and Lyft a grace duration, and if the poll initiative is a success, it might throw the ruling into query.

This can be a growing tale. Test again for updates.



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F.T.C. Determination on Pursuing Fb Antitrust Case Is Stated to Be Close to

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WASHINGTON — The Federal Business Fee is transferring nearer to a call about submitting an antitrust lawsuit in opposition to Fb for its marketplace energy in social networking, consistent with two other people with wisdom of the company’s talks.

The 5 individuals of the F.T.C. met on Thursday to speak about its investigation into Fb and whether or not the corporate had purchased smaller competitors to handle a monopoly, the folk stated. The company has ready 3 paperwork about Fb — one on its attainable antitrust violations, some other examining the corporate’s economics, and a 3rd assessing the hazards of litigation — which were circulated amongst F.T.C. leaders, the folk stated.

No choice has been made on a case, they stated. The F.T.C. commissioners should vote sooner than any case is pursued.

Lawmakers and policymakers in Washington were ramping up antitrust movements in opposition to the most important era firms, continuously in a bipartisan effort. On Tuesday, the Justice Division filed a lawsuit in opposition to Google accusing it of illegally keeping up its monopoly energy in seek and seek promoting, the primary such criminal motion in opposition to a tech corporate in twenty years. Two weeks in the past, the Area Judiciary Committee additionally advisable taking motion to get a divorce the massive tech platforms, together with Fb, Amazon, Apple and Google.

Fb and the F.T.C. declined to remark. The Washington Put up previous reported that the F.T.C. met at the Fb investigation on Thursday.

This can be a creating tale and will probably be up to date.



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Trump Nonetheless Miles Forward of Biden in Social Media Engagement

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President Trump has made his battle on Giant Tech a central piece of his re-election marketing campaign. For months, he has accused Fb and Twitter of making an attempt to rig the election by means of silencing complaint about his rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and referred to as for brand new laws to rein in Silicon Valley giants.

However Mr. Trump is a long way from muzzled on-line. In truth, in fresh weeks, he has widened his social media engagement lead over Mr. Biden.

Up to now 30 days, Mr. Trump’s authentic Fb web page has gotten 130 million reactions, stocks and feedback, when compared with 18 million for Mr. Biden’s web page, consistent with knowledge from CrowdTangle, a Fb-owned knowledge platform. This is considerably better than the engagement hole for the previous 30-day duration, when Mr. Trump were given 86 million interactions to Mr. Biden’s 10 million.

Mr. Trump trounced Mr. Biden on Instagram, too, getting 60 million likes and feedback on his posts prior to now 30 days, just about two times as many as Mr. Biden’s 34 million. Within the previous 30-day duration, Mr. Trump were given 39 million likes and feedback, whilst Mr. Biden were given 13 million.

Mr. Trump additionally a long way outpaced Mr. Biden on YouTube, getting 207 million perspectives on his movies within the closing 30 days to Mr. Biden’s 29 million, consistent with SocialBlade, a knowledge company that tracks video efficiency. (SocialBlade’s knowledge, which incorporates perspectives on YouTube advertisements in addition to unpaid movies, is fairly other than CrowdTangle’s Fb and Instagram engagement knowledge, which counts most commonly engagement on unpaid posts.)

Social media efficiency isn’t a proxy for electoral good fortune, after all, and Mr. Trump’s marketing campaign would more than likely wish to be main in swing-state polls than on Fb and YouTube. Engagement knowledge additionally does now not seize what number of people view or click on on posts, best how robust a response they elicit. And Fb has argued that knowledge about “succeed in” — the quantity of people that in truth see a given put up of their feeds — presentations a extra correct image of what’s in style at the platform. (It does now not, on the other hand, make this knowledge publicly to be had.)

But it surely comes in handy to have a look at the president’s claims of partisan bias by means of tech firms in mild of his sky-high engagement on those self same firms’ platforms, as it hints on the nature of his court cases. His arguments don’t seem to be the pleas of an underdog being silenced, however the threats of a celeb who desires to be allowed to stay his megaphone.

Probably the most president’s posts in fresh weeks have incorporated incorrect information about mail-in vote casting, doubtful claims about Covid-19 and false and unproven allegations of corruption towards Mr. Biden. A number of of his posts were taken down or had fact-checking labels carried out to them. However those measures don’t seem to have dented his account’s general engagement.

The president’s most powerful week on Fb and Instagram got here all over his early October hospitalization for Covid-19, when well-wishers flooded his pages with supportive likes and feedback. On YouTube, his highest day got here this week, when he took out plenty of advertisements about accusations towards Mr. Biden’s son Hunter, printed by means of The New York Publish. (The New York Instances has now not independently showed The Publish’s reporting, and Mr. Biden’s marketing campaign has brushed aside the allegations as “Russian disinformation.”) The ones advertisements carried out nicely for Mr. Trump, and his channel were given just about 22 million perspectives on Tuesday on my own.

One shiny spot for Mr. Biden is Twitter, the place the previous vp has been acting nicely of overdue. In step with Axios, which cited knowledge from the media intelligence corporate Conviva, Mr. Biden has overtaken Mr. Trump in fresh days in relation to the typical selection of retweets and replies on his posts. (According to-post averages could also be one social media contest that the president’s nonstop tweeting dependancy does now not lend a hand him win.)

Every other platform the place Mr. Biden has crushed Mr. Trump? TV. His the city corridor on ABC closing week were given a larger target market than Mr. Trump’s head-to-head NBC the city corridor, consistent with Nielsen.

And given Mr. Biden’s considerably smaller social media target market, he’s punching above his weight. His Fb web page’s “interplay price” — a measure of engagement that takes under consideration what number of fans an account has — is lately greater than two times as excessive as Mr. Trump’s.



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