Russell Davies: If we keep data, we have responsibility for how it is shared

The other week, I was talking about the Quantified Self and data in that silly, self-regarding sense of logging all your habits in some vague attempt to understand yourself better or, perhaps, to outsource your showing off.

Russell Davies: If we keep data, we have responsibility for how it is shared

But, yesterday, I came across a blog post that made all that trivial stuff deeply real. It was written by Dan Hon, the global interactive creative director, Nike, at Wieden & Kennedy Portland. You can find it by Googling Dan Hon and adding the phrase "data saved my life" - which is, in this case, only a slight exaggeration.

He tells a fascinating story of his Type 2 diabetes diagnosis and of tackling that problem through exercise and diet - but exercise and diet managed and enhanced through the detailed and obsessive collection of data and measurements. He uses a blood glucose meter, Withings scales, a Nike+ Fuelband and all sorts of tracking software via his phone. And he logs and analyses lots of data. The downward lines on the graph are clearly motivating.

This was all good to hear - Dan seems to be improving his health, and his use of data seems to be helping him. But the really interesting bit is the passage headed "Silos everywhere".

Here, he talks about the interoperability of the various bits of data his health apps collect: "Runkeeper appears to be doing a good job of enabling some sort of Health Graph ... At the moment, my data is all over the place. Some of it is in a Nike silo. Some of it, mainly from my health insurer and my doctors, is in some sort of vault run by WebMD, because my insurer doesn't use Microsoft Healthvault. The Withings data is exportable all over the place and can be imported into Runkeeper via its Health Graph, but my Glooko data exists inside a nice shiny app or a CSV or a PDF I can show to my health-care professional. Lifescan, the people who make my blood-sugar meter, don't even have a Mac app. This siloed data approach is only going to get worse until someone dies because no-one was able to get access to their health information and it was patently, obviously there."

You don't have to have heard of each little bit of software he talks about to understand the impact of the message at the end and of the mess at the beginning. Health data is being captured and enabled by private companies - competing private companies with an interest in keeping their silo (or stack) closed and uniquely valuable.

Maybe that is not particularly remarkable - and certainly not in the US - but it points to something we are all going to have to think about: namely, not just our opportunity to collect customer data, but our responsibility in holding it and deciding how it gets shared and exported.

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