Quantified Self and Personal Health Privacy Policy Limitations

27 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2016 Last revised: 16 Aug 2016

See all articles by Nancy Brinson

Nancy Brinson

Moody College of Communication; University of Texas at Austin - Moody College of Communication

Danielle Rutherford

University of Texas at Austin, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, Students

Date Written: August 15, 2016

Abstract

As consumers increasingly integrate quantified self (QS) health and fitness tracking devices into their lives, the data they amass offer to not only help users live healthier lives, but also present opportunities for interested third parties to identify and target them based on their health-related behaviors. The intended and unintended consequences associated with the aggregation of personal health data collected by QS devices impact aspects of individual, social, organizational, cultural and even legal life. The current study investigates the influence of consumers’ motivations and behavioral-related traits on the use of QS health-tracking devices, health outcomes, and receptivity to tracking and sharing their personal health data. The incentives most desired by consumers in exchange for quantifying and sharing their personal health data include better quality care from health care providers, reduced health insurance rates, and cash or other monetary rewards (eMarketer, 2015).

Significant incentives also exist for those parties who desire access to individuals’ personal health data. Clinicians seeking to improve communication and collaboration with their patients in order to promote preventative health care as well as employers seeking to promote “corporate wellness” with an eye on rising health insurance rates are chief among these. However, the practice of individuals sharing their quantified health data with employers introduces the opportunity for various forms of discrimination. Health insurers are also seeking access to this data in an effort to better predict rates and level out profits (Krol, 2015). An increasing number of health insurers are offering incentives for their members to wear fitness trackers, in addition to exploring punishments for any unhealthy behaviors recorded by these devices (Olson, 2014). Indeed, new rules under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allow employers to offer greater incentives to users for implementing healthy behaviors (Mientka, 2013).

Other parties interested in acquiring individuals’ health data include marketers (who are already accessing many individuals’ QS health data via free apps in order to sell them a myriad of products related to health and fitness); as well as litigators, who recently set a precedent for using this information in legal defense strategies and are likely to consider other applications as policies permit (Olson, 2016).

The current study investigates the influence of consumers’ motivations and behavioral traits on the use of QS health-tracking devices, health outcomes, and receptivity to tracking personal health data. Data indicate an overall good fit for the structural model tested. Expectancy outcomes related to health and gamification were found to play a significant role in device use and health outcomes. Health outcomes, neuroticism and conscientiousness were also found to be significant contributors related to individuals’ receptivity to tracking and sharing their personal health data.

Suggested Citation

Brinson, Nancy and Rutherford, Danielle, Quantified Self and Personal Health Privacy Policy Limitations (August 15, 2016). TPRC 44: The 44th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2757453

Nancy Brinson (Contact Author)

Moody College of Communication ( email )

300 W. Dean Keeton St.
BMC 4.316
Austin, TX 78712
United States

University of Texas at Austin - Moody College of Communication ( email )

Austin, TX
United States

Danielle Rutherford

University of Texas at Austin, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, Students ( email )

2300 Red River St., Stop E2700
PO Box Y
Austin, TX
United States

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