Bentley says that all this data could have a profound, as yet unseen, impact on healthcare.
“Governments could make informed policy decisions if common patterns were found across whole populations,” Bentley says. “If clusters of illness and symptoms were found, it could lead to the very sophisticated targeting of treatment. The data will also be very beneficial to medical insurance companies in its aggregate form.”
And this is where privacy concerns enter the equation. As smartphones become ubiquitous, so the data streams will multiply exponentially. And because they sit in our pockets or bags, they are the nearest thing yet to having your own personal black box recorder. However, who controls or even owns the data you create as you get on with your day? Who else has access to it? Do you have any say over how it is viewed or used by others?
Adriana Lukas is the founder and convener of the London Quantified Self Meetup Group, which meets every two months to discuss the potential and implications of lifelogging.
She is excited by such technological advances, but warns about the abuse and misuse of data.
“There are certainly benefits, but you must be careful,” she says. “The fight for our datasets has already started. The aggregation of all this data is where the value lies. Security and privacy of all this data is crucial. It is very valuable.”
Most smartphone users are still naive about how the data they are creating is being used, Lukas says.
“The default setting is that data are shared. This is wrong. Users are asked to sync with Facebook. People who use these apps are thinking about their health, not about data privacy, but all these data are very valuable. More often than not, you don’t even get to own the data you are generating. Most of it is stored on client-side data servers. This is turning into a huge business. Companies are circling at the moment,” she says.
When it was revealed last year that the iPhone was secretly recording data about the user’s movements, there was outrage. Users felt violated and Apple quickly moved to fix the “fault.” However, Lukas says this should be a warning to us that we still know little about how the data we create might be being used by others to better “understand” us.
“This is truly personal data,” she says. “You should be given the explicit ‘opt in’ choice to share it, not simply to opt out. We need much better standards of data literacy. People really need educating on the importance of all this.”
Lukas fears a “data dystopia”: “Imagine if Tesco supermarket got hold of your Fitbit data. Think what they could do with it, alongside your Tesco Clubcard data. We are now swimming in data streams, but try claiming any of them back for yourself. For example, try to search your own Twitter timeline backward. It’s near impossible, yet you created all that data and content. We are being tricked out of our own data online. Without us, it wouldn’t even exist. We should be able to analyze it on our own terms and own it.”