Location as Health

43 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2021 Last revised: 1 Sep 2021

See all articles by Anya Prince

Anya Prince

University of Iowa College of Law

Date Written: January 15, 2021


The location data of millions of Americans is for sale. This effectively means that the health data of millions is also for sale. One GPS ping could show an individual entering a safe-injection site, visiting a psychiatrist, or working out at the gym. Our daily travel habits highlight neighborhoods, built environments, and other social determinants of health. Location data is health data. What’s more, it is difficult to guarantee anonymity of location data. Even with aggregate data, a simple cross-check with public records can unmask the individual behind the data point. Additionally, private companies control the data—companies that fall largely outside of health privacy protections, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Much literature explores how privacy laws fail to adequately address health mobile applications (apps), including those that track geolocation, and other big data, but have not focused on the health information revealed by location data alone. This paper will examine how the location data that is incessantly generated by phones and devices is collected, utilized, and regulated. It will explore how such data can be used by private companies to infer health information, with both beneficial and pernicious potential consequences. The answer of how to more broadly protect location data as health data hinges on whether this ultimately is viewed as a health privacy problem or a data privacy problem. The paper teases out this distinction and recommends ways law can address privacy concerns stemming from health adjacent information.

Keywords: health privacy, data privacy, location, GPS, health information

JEL Classification: K32, I18, I12

Suggested Citation

Prince, Anya, Location as Health (January 15, 2021). Houston Journal of Health Law and Policy, Forthcoming, U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2021-06, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3767122 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3767122

Anya Prince (Contact Author)

University of Iowa College of Law ( email )

Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics