Tech, tock; tech, tock…how long until we reveal all?

So much of our personal information is out there for consumption by corporate interests and others; new movements to use wearable tech to enhance life-sciences research and clinical trials mean your vitals might be added to that data collective, though it still may be for the best in the end

Jeffrey Bouley
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In the other two editorial/commentary features of this issue of the magazine alone (from Peter T. Kissinger and Jeff Mazzeo), we have heavy representation for mass spectrometry—as well we should, given we also have more such coverage in this issue courtesy of the show preview feature for the American Society for Mass Spectrometry’s annual meeting in St. Louis. Mass spec technology even gets a passing mention in one of the news articles in the Diagnostics section this issue.
So, I don’t feel like I have anything to add on the subject. Not that MS, LCMS and the like were exactly subjects I pored over in my university years in the journalism school there anyway.
But I do want to talk a little tech, with my editorial here concerned more with the “On the cutting edge” coverage in our Business & Government Policy section—and, frankly, a fair amount of our past coverage this year in our Tools & Technology segment in general. You see, in the effort to improve life-sciences research, technology is not just at the benchtop or in big clean rooms but also increasingly on us, the average person. The research subjects and patients. While I don’t find this concerning per se—after all, I’m no Luddite and love my mobile devices, desktop computer and more—it does raise some minor flags for me.
Those flags started fluttering in my peripheral vision last month in our Clinical Trials section with the article “Optimizing trials through mobile health technology” where we talked about integration of Garmin International’s wristwatch-like vivofit mobile health device and Medidata Solutions’ Clinical Cloud offering.
They fluttered a bit more dramatically this month in this issue’s Clinical Trials section with the article “A trio advancing trials” that looks at—among other technologies being used to enhance trials—ResearchKit from Apple, which seeks to turn the iPhone and the HealthKit app into diagnostic tools that can help with clinical trial-related recruitment, data gathering and monitoring.
I saw one picture online from a public unveiling by Apple of ResearchKit (which looks to me to have been part of a presentation that talked about the new Apple Watch as well) in which the screen behind the speaker showed the words “Apple will not see your data.”
It’s not that I don’t believe Apple. They probably won’t be looking at it or storing it on their servers. However, I do know how easy it is to intercept wireless transmissions from mobile devices (I’m sure the iPhone isn’t immune to this) and I know how there are many others who are only too happy to store our data so that they can use it (or misuse it) or sell it to others.
My feeling, like that of so many other tech-watchers, is that the use of mobile devices in clinical trials will ultimately be a good thing. But as with all good things, it will come with pitfalls. One of those pitfalls is, I am certain, going to be invasions of our privacy—by outside parties and sometimes even by the tech manufacturers and data gatherers themselves.
Personally, I don’t know what anyone would want with real-time data on my heart rate, temperature, steps walked or anything else. Then again, when I first started participating in social media so many years ago (back when discussion forums were the rage and Facebook not a reality yet), I never would have thought Facebook would actively monitor my web browsing so that it could slap posts from companies in my timeline that “match” my online interests.
While I’m a pretty straightforward person, there’s only so open I want to be. That point at which you become painfully exposed to the world—or at least specific parties with their own agendas. I look forward to what mobile health technology and other tech tools can do to make clinical trials better.
But I look with a wary eye nonetheless.

Jeffrey Bouley

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