Companies large and small tackle data privacy at Health 2.0

Google, Nebula Genomics, take notice of consumer calls for control over data.
By Dave Muoio and Jonah Comstock
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Ricardo Prada speaking at Health 2.0

Indu Subaiya and Ricardo Prada chat on stage at Health 2.0's Fall Conference.

Data privacy has long been a concern in healthcare, but the past year has seen consumers increasingly concerned about whether or not their devices are always listening. Speaking onstage at Health 2.0's Fall Conference this week in Santa Clara, California with Health 2.0 cofounder and EVP Indu Subaiya, Ricardo Prada, principal UX researcher at Google, said that his company is well aware of the public’s sentiment, both within healthcare and without.
 
“The intent for us at Google is to provide technologies that make people’s lives better, and we’re not going to do that if people are uncomfortable around those technologies,” Prada said. “So for us, a lot of it has to do with ensuring that people feel a sense of control and agency over their data. There’s a lot of things that are happening in the industry. We’re grappling with it, [and] I think that society is also grappling with the idea that in this room everybody probably has at least one camera on them.”
 
To address this, Prada said that his company has been looking into ways to separate its most advanced machine learning tech from the cloud. As an example, he described a consumer child and pet camera called Google Clips that only records when the subject enters its field of view. These clips are recorded in a closed system, meaning that they are never automatically loaded to a remote server, and only saved with the user’s permission.
 
“I find that so interesting because, in healthcare, we’ve been trying to get away from the actual desktop into the cloud,” Subaiya said during their on-stage conversation. “But you’re saying coming back full circle might be a way to have a hybrid approach?”
 
“I think it depends on what the use case is,” Prada replied. “For some things, the cloud may not even make sense. You might have too much data, so it has to be processed locally. So Google is developing a lot of very low-cost technologies that make it possible to do things on the device.”

On day two of the conference, attendees’ concerns about data privacy were made clear when they voted Nebula Genomics the winner of the conference’s Launch! competition. Nebula is creating a blockchain-based platform that allows consumers to securely store their genetic data and selectively sell it to researchers.

Just as consumers worry that devices they’ve bought to use as tools will also gather data from them, users of consumer genomics products have to worry about how that data is being used.

“Today when you go to a personal genomics company, you’re effectively paying them to collect your data and then resell it for profit,” Nebula Genomics CEO Kamal Obbad said. “At Nebula Genomics, we think that you deserve ownership of your health data, you should control who has access to it, and you should be compensated accordingly when a researcher uses it.”

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