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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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An Australia With No Google? The Sour Battle In the back of a Drastic Danger

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SYDNEY, Australia — In a big escalation, Google threatened on Friday to make its seek engine unavailable in Australia if the federal government licensed law that might pressure tech firms to pay for journalism shared on their platforms.

Fb, which seemed with Google at an Australian Senate listening to, reaffirmed a risk of its personal, vowing to dam customers in Australia from posting or sharing hyperlinks to information if the invoice handed.

In each instances, the dire warnings — which one senator referred to as blackmail — printed the obvious willingness of Fb and Google to cover or erase dependable assets of data for hundreds of thousands of other folks at a time when social media platforms are underneath fireplace for serving to incorrect information unfold international.

The corporations argue that they already lend a hand the media trade by means of sending it visitors, and that the invoice would open them as much as “unmanageable ranges of monetary and operational possibility.” The reaction by means of Google, which controls 95 % of all queries in Australia along with proudly owning YouTube, has grown specifically competitive: The corporate lately buried main Australian information websites in seek leads to what it referred to as an “experiment.”

However the precedent of paying for journalism does now not, in itself, appear to be the problem.

A couple of hours earlier than Google threatened to remove its seek engine in Australia, the corporate agreed to pay information publications in France underneath an settlement this is more likely to result in extra offers throughout Europe.

The combat in Australia facilities on energy: who will get to make a decision the bills, what activates a price for the tech firms and when do they have got to expose adjustments of their algorithms.

Australia’s assertive problem to the social media giants has positioned it in the forefront of a motion to strengthen a conventional information media ecosystem that The usa’s trillion-dollar tech firms threaten with extinction. For Google and Fb, their intense pushback has turn out to be a point of interest in their world efforts to restrict legislation, as governments world wide glance to rein them in.

Right here’s a abstract of the struggle.

Below Australia’s proposed law, if media firms and platforms like Google can’t agree on a worth for information content material, an impartial arbitration frame will get to the bottom of the dispute. That would quantity to a primary on this planet.

The settlement in France shall we Google negotiate with publishers the usage of standards the corporate has established, such because the contribution to normal dialogue, e-newsletter quantity and target market dimension. Disputes would possibly move to courtroom, the place they may well be slowed down for years, delaying cost.

Australia’s invoice would streamline the method and enhance the weaker aspect — the media.

As Rod Sims, the chairman of Australia’s client coverage regulator, defined: “The purpose of the code is to deal with the asymmetric bargaining place between Australian information media companies and the massive virtual platforms who’ve transparent marketplace energy.”

The tech firms say it might create an incentive for media firms to jack up costs, sending instances to an arbiter who will resolve ultimate cost. They level to a central authority file estimating that 75 % of the negotiations may finally end up with arbitrators.

Critics argue that Google and Fb are merely looking to care for their place as those who get to resolve what information is price.

“It’s in regards to the exterior procedure being imposed on them by means of law, moderately than by means of them simply with the ability to dole out offers as they see have compatibility,” stated Peter Lewis, director of the Heart for Accountable Era on the Australia Institute, an impartial analysis crew. “It shifts the steadiness of energy from their palms to a 3rd celebration, and that’s what they may be able to’t countenance.”

The struggle facilities partly on a debate over the character of seek effects, and at the query of whether or not tech firms must pay for each article that Australians see on their platforms.

In a submission to Australia’s Senate inquiry in regards to the proposal, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the International Vast Internet, wrote that “the code dangers breaching a elementary concept of the internet by means of requiring cost for linking between positive content material on-line.”

“The power to hyperlink freely,” he added, “which means with out boundaries in regards to the content material of the connected website online and with out financial charges, is key to how the internet operates.”

Melanie Silva, the managing director of Google Australia and New Zealand, made the similar argument on Friday within the Senate and in a video posted to Twitter, the place she requested other folks to believe recommending a couple of cafes to a chum — after which getting a invoice from the cafes for sharing that knowledge.

“While you put a worth on linking to positive knowledge, you wreck the way in which search engines like google and yahoo paintings,” she stated. “And also you now not have a loose and open internet.”

Google and Fb (in conjunction with Twitter and others), then again, don’t merely hyperlink. They body the paintings in previews, with headlines, summaries and pictures, after which curate and serve up the content material whilst sprinkling in ads.

Tama Leaver, a professor of web research at Curtin College in Perth, famous in a up to date essay that this added price lessens the chance of any person clicking into the item, hurting media firms whilst bettering the tech firms’ final analysis.

“It’s regularly in that reframing that ads seem, and that is the place those platforms generate profits,” he wrote. He added that the code may well be adjusted to price the corporations handiest after they create previews, now not simply hyperlinks.

However Mr. Sims, the primary architect of the code, stated on Friday within the Senate that Google and Mr. Berners-Lee have been merely incorrect on the main points.

“The code does now not require Google and Fb to pay for linking information content material,” he stated. “Certainly, discussions we’re conscious about have eager about paying prematurely lump sum quantities, now not in line with click on.”

Extra widely, lawmakers and public coverage professionals have argued that the corporations don’t simply percentage knowledge like a chum. They harvest information about their customers with a purpose to make what they percentage successful.

As Mr. Lewis on the Australia Institute put it, they don’t simply come up with details about the place to get espresso — they practice you to the cafe, watch what you order and the place you move subsequent, then promote that wisdom to firms that wish to marketplace you one thing else.

Senator Rex Patrick accused Google of pretending to be all for “technical priority.” In reality, he stated, it’s all about “business priority” — cash.

Google Australia gathered more or less $3.Three billion from Australian advertisers in 2019, and paid about $77 million in taxes, with a reported benefit of about $637 million.

One probably groundbreaking component of the proposed law comes to the name of the game sauce of Fb, Google and subsidiaries like YouTube: the algorithms that resolve what other folks see after they seek or scroll in the course of the platforms.

Early drafts of the invoice would have required that tech firms give their information media companions 28 days’ understand earlier than making any adjustments that might impact how customers engage with their content material.

Google and Fb stated that might be not possible as a result of their algorithms are all the time converting in techniques that may be tricky to measure for a subset like information, so in the most recent draft, lawmakers restricted the scope.

If the invoice passes in a single shape or every other, which turns out most likely, the virtual platforms should give the media 14 days’ understand of planned set of rules adjustments that considerably impact their companies. Even that, some critics argue, isn’t sufficient for Large Tech.

“I feel Google and Fb are severely nervous that different international locations will sign up for in Australia’s effort,” stated Johan Lidberg, a professor of media at Monash College in Melbourne. “This is able to in the end motive considerable earnings losses globally and critical lack of keep watch over, exemplified by means of the set of rules factor.”

However, he added, the usage of threats to bully lawmakers is not going to do them any excellent.

“Google’s overreaction completely illustrates why the code is wanted,” he stated, “and past that, the dire want for all governments, around the globe, to sign up for in efforts in reining in and proscribing the ability of those firms this is utterly out of hand.”





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Google Shuts Loon Helium Balloon Undertaking

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Google’s mum or dad corporate Alphabet is shutting down Loon, a high-profile subsidiary spun out from its analysis labs that used high-altitude helium balloons to ship cell connectivity from the stratosphere.

Just about a decade after it all started the challenge, Alphabet mentioned on Thursday that it pulled the plug on Loon as it didn’t see a technique to scale back prices to create a sustainable industry. In conjunction with the self-driving automotive unit Waymo, Loon was once one of the crucial hyped “moonshot” generation tasks to emerge from Alphabet’s analysis lab, X.

“The street to industrial viability has confirmed for much longer and riskier than was hoping. So we’ve made the tough determination to near down Loon,” Astro Teller, who heads X, wrote in a weblog publish. Alphabet mentioned it anticipated to wind down operations in “the approaching months” with the hope of discovering different positions for Loon workers at Alphabet.

The speculation at the back of Loon was once to carry cell connectivity to far off portions of the sector the place development a standard cell community could be too tough and too expensive. Alphabet promoted the generation as a doubtlessly promising technique to carry web connectivity not to simply the “subsequent billion” customers however the “ultimate billion.”

The enormous helium balloons, constructed from sheets of polyethylene, are the dimensions of tennis courts. They have been powered by means of sun panels and navigated by means of flight keep watch over tool that used synthetic intelligence to glide successfully within the stratosphere. Whilst up within the air, they act as “floating cellular towers,” transmitting web indicators to flooring stations and private units.

Google set to work on Loon in 2011 and introduced the challenge with a public take a look at in 2013. Loon become a stand-alone subsidiary in 2018, a couple of years after Google become a conserving corporate referred to as Alphabet. In April 2019, it authorised a $125 million funding from a SoftBank unit referred to as HAPSMobile to advance using “high-altitude cars” to ship web connectivity.

Ultimate 12 months, it introduced the primary industrial deployment of the generation with Telkom Kenya to supply a 4G LTE community connection to a just about 31,000-square-mile space throughout central and western Kenya, together with the capital, Nairobi. Earlier than then, the balloons were used simplest in emergency scenarios, akin to after Storm Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s cell community.

On the other hand, Loon was once beginning to run out of cash and had grew to become to Alphabet to stay its industry solvent whilst it sought every other investor within the challenge, in step with a November record in The Data.

The verdict to close down Loon is every other sign of Alphabet’s fresh austerity towards its formidable and expensive generation tasks. Below Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s leader monetary officer since 2015, the corporate has stored an in depth watch over the price range of its so-called Different Bets, fledgling industry ventures aimed toward diversifying from its core promoting industry.

Alphabet has aggressively driven its “Different Bets” like Waymo and Verily, a existence sciences unit, to just accept out of doors traders and department out on their very own. Initiatives that didn’t protected out of doors funding or display sufficient monetary promise were discarded, akin to Makani, a challenge to provide wind power kites that Alphabet close down ultimate 12 months.

That austerity has been a notable exchange from a time when devices like X, which were a well-liked vainness challenge of Google’s co-founders Larry Web page and Sergey Brin, had autonomy to spend freely to pursue formidable generation tasks despite the fact that the monetary outlook remained unclear.



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Google Shuts Loon Scorching-Air Balloon Challenge

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Google’s mum or dad corporate Alphabet is shutting down Loon, a high-profile subsidiary spun out from its analysis labs that used hot-air balloons to ship cell connectivity from the stratosphere.

Just about a decade after it all started the mission, Alphabet stated on Thursday that it pulled the plug on Loon as it didn’t see a approach to scale back prices to create a sustainable trade. In conjunction with the self-driving automotive unit Waymo, Loon was once one of the crucial hyped “moonshot” era tasks to emerge from Alphabet’s analysis lab, X.

“The street to industrial viability has confirmed for much longer and riskier than was hoping. So we’ve made the tricky determination to near down Loon,” Astro Teller, who heads X, wrote in a weblog submit. Alphabet stated it anticipated to wind down operations in “the approaching months” with the hope of discovering different positions for Loon staff at Alphabet.

The theory in the back of Loon was once to carry cell connectivity to far off portions of the arena the place construction a conventional cellular community can be too tricky and too pricey. Alphabet promoted the era as a probably promising approach to carry web connectivity not to simply the “subsequent billion” customers however the “final billion.”

The large hot-air balloons, produced from sheets of polyethylene, are the dimensions of tennis courts. They had been powered by way of sun panels and navigated by way of flight keep an eye on instrument that used synthetic intelligence to float successfully within the stratosphere. Whilst up within the air, they act as “floating cellular towers,” transmitting web indicators to floor stations and private units.

Google set to work on Loon in 2011 and introduced the mission with a public check in 2013. Loon changed into a stand-alone subsidiary in 2018, a couple of years after Google changed into a conserving corporate referred to as Alphabet. In April 2019, it authorised a $125 million funding from a SoftBank unit referred to as HAPSMobile to advance the usage of “high-altitude cars” to ship web connectivity.

Ultimate 12 months, it introduced the primary industrial deployment of the era with Telkom Kenya to offer a 4G LTE community connection to a just about 31,000-square-mile house throughout central and western Kenya, together with the capital, Nairobi. Prior to then, the balloons have been used best in emergency scenarios, equivalent to after Storm Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s cell community.

Alternatively, Loon was once beginning to run out of cash and had grew to become to Alphabet to stay its trade solvent whilst it sought some other investor within the mission, consistent with a November file in The Knowledge.

The verdict to close down Loon is some other sign of Alphabet’s fresh austerity towards its formidable and expensive era tasks. Beneath Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s leader monetary officer since 2015, the corporate has stored a detailed watch over the price range of its so-called Different Bets, fledgling trade ventures aimed toward diversifying from its core promoting trade.

Alphabet has aggressively driven its “Different Bets” like Waymo and Verily, a lifestyles sciences unit, to simply accept out of doors buyers and department out on their very own. Tasks that did not safe out of doors funding or display sufficient monetary promise were discarded, equivalent to Makani, a mission to provide wind power kites that Alphabet close down final 12 months.

That austerity has been a notable alternate from a time when gadgets like X, which have been a popular self-importance mission of Google’s co-founders Larry Web page and Sergey Brin, had autonomy to spend freely to pursue formidable era tasks even supposing the monetary outlook remained unclear.



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