Artificial Intelligence Advances Threaten Privacy of Health Data

Advances in artificial intelligence have created new threats to the privacy of people's health data, a new University of California, Berkeley, study shows. Led by UC Berkeley engineer Anil Aswani, the study suggests current laws and regulations are nowhere near sufficient to keep an individual's health status private in the face of AI development. The research was published Dec. 21 in the JAMA Network Open journal.

The findings show that by using artificial intelligence, it is possible to identify individuals by learning daily patterns in step data, such as that collected by activity trackers, smartwatches and smartphones, and correlating it to demographic data.

The mining of two years' worth of data covering more than 15,000 Americans led to the conclusion that the privacy standards associated with 1996's HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) legislation need to be revisited and reworked.

"We wanted to use NHANES (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) to look at privacy questions because this data is representative of the diverse population in the U.S.," said Aswani. "The results point out a major problem. If you strip all the identifying information, it doesn't protect you as much as you'd think. Someone else can come back and put it all back together if they have the right kind of information."

"In principle, you could imagine Facebook gathering step data from the app on your smartphone, then buying health care data from another company and matching the two," he added. "Now they would have health care data that's matched to names, and they could either start selling advertising based on that or they could sell the data to others."

According to Aswani, the problem isn't with the devices, but with how the information the devices capture can be misused and potentially sold on the open market.

"I'm not saying we should abandon these devices," he said. "But we need to be very careful about how we are using this data. We need to protect the information. If we can do that, it's a net positive."

Though the study specifically looked at step data, the results suggest a broader threat to the privacy of health data.

"HIPAA regulations make your health care private, but they don't cover as much as you think," Aswani said. "Many groups, like tech companies, are not covered by HIPAA, and only very specific pieces of information are not allowed to be shared by current HIPAA rules. There are companies buying health data. It's supposed to be anonymous data, but their whole business model is to find a way to attach names to this data and sell it."

Aswani said advances in AI make it easier for companies to gain access to health data, the temptation for companies to use it in illegal or unethical ways will increase. Employers, mortgage lenders, credit card companies and others could potentially use AI to discriminate based on pregnancy or disability status, for instance.

"Ideally, what I'd like to see from this are new regulations or rules that protect health data," he said. "But there is actually a big push to even weaken the regulations right now. For instance, the rule-making group for HIPAA has requested comments on increasing data sharing. The risk is that if people are not aware of what's happening, the rules we have will be weakened. And the fact is the risks of us losing control of our privacy when it comes to health care are actually increasing and not decreasing."

Liangyuan Na, Cong Yang, Chi-Cheng Lo, Fangyuan Zhao, Yoshimi Fukuoka, Anil Aswani.
Feasibility of Reidentifying Individuals in Large National Physical Activity Data Sets From Which Protected Health Information Has Been Removed With Use of Machine Learning.
JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(8):e186040. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.6040

Most Popular Now

App Determines COVID-19 Disease Severity…

A new mobile app can help clinicians determine which patients with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are likely to have severe cases. Created by researchers at NYU College of Dentistry, the...

NHS Trust Revolutionises Access to Menta…

North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust has selected the DXC Open Health Connect platform from DXC Technology (NYSE: DXC) and is creating a blueprint that could dramatically reduce mental health...

FDA Permits Marketing of First Game-Base…

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permitted marketing of the first game-based digital therapeutic device to improve attention function in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The prescription-only...

HealthTunes Launches iOS App to Deliver …

HealthTunes has announceed the launch of the iOS App specifically created to help alleviate the mental health suffering of frontline healthcare workers. After months of fighting the pandemic, many frontline...

Bluetooth Technology, the Best Ally to D…

"Tracers have been and are essential to manage the pandemic. Today, the tracing is done by hand and this work is slow and inaccurate. However, as we have seen, technology...

Artificial Intelligence can Improve How …

According to a recent report by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers, artificial intelligence (AI) should be used to expand the role of chest X-ray imaging - using computed tomography, or CT...

Philips Announces Collaboration with Ame…

Royal Philips (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA), a global leader in health technology, today announced it has once again joined forces with the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) to help further the...

Successful Debut for DMEA sparks

16 - 18 June 2020, Berlin, Germany. DMEA sparks opened, featuring a wide range of topics. Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn kicked off events. In his interview he focused on...

Digital Mental Health support to be Prov…

SilverCloud, the leading digital therapeutics provider, has partnered with mental health charity Northpoint Wellbeing to co-develop a new digital therapy programme to alleviate anxiety in young people. Coming at a...

Siemens Healthineers Offers Flexible Tel…

With its teamplay myCare Companion software, the company is bringing a new and flexible telemedicine solution to the market that enables remote care for patients with chronic diseases. The teamplay...

Andrea Fiumicelli Appointed as a CEO of …

Dedalus Group, leader in Europe and one of the world's leading players in clinical and healthcare information systems supporting clinical professionals and healthcare facilities thanks to a wide portfolio of...

Computer Modelling Predicts where Vaccin…

Researchers have developed a model that can estimate regional disease burden and the impact of vaccination, even in the absence of robust surveillance data, a study in eLife reveals. The report...