[ Tuesday, December 18, 2007 ]


What, me worry? It seems most on-line users aren't all that concerned about how much information about themselves is available online. That sounds about right to me. I've long contended that the concern over privacy, particularly health information privacy, is misstated and overblown due to the dazzling anecdote factor. Like this:

Woman comes into doctors office, tests pregnant. Doctor's office staff
calls her house, says her prenatal vitamins are ready to be picked up.
Husband, who hasn't had relations with woman for some time, gets message, kills

That's what people envision when they think about the privacy of their health information. But, the problem is that:

A: much of your health information is out there for anyone to see. People talk about their health all the time; your office mates will know if you're pregnant; it's obvious if you're on crutches that you're injured, and when people ask you what happened, you tell them, don't you?

B: Unless you're known to the person getting the information, nobody really cares about your health information, no matter how tawdry or embarrasing. If you knew that someone named Bill Hayes took Viagra, but you didn't know anyone named Bill Hayes, would you care? And would Bill Hayes really care (remember, he picks up his prescription from the pharmacist, who he probably doesn't know)?

C: The really valuable part of PHI is not the "health" part but the financial part. It's not Bill Hayes' Viagra prescription in his medical record that's valuable to a hacker, it's Bill Hayes' social security number that's also in his medical record.

Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems said, "you have no privacy; get over it." That's an obvious overstatement, but still, I think that most people who are savvy about information and technology realize that there's a lot of information out there that's not private (hey, those folks are actually looking for that information, too, so if they want to find it on their own targets, they know it's out there on themselves), and they actually might like it that way -- don't hide your light under a bushel basket.

I also tend to think that there's actually a lot more opportunity to maintain your own privacy in this modern world than there was in the past, if that's what you're really looking to do. Think Mayberry: everybody knew everyone's secrets in small towns. Now, like the Purloined Letter, the best place to hide may be in plain sight. With so much information available, it may actually be easier to get privacy. Think about that.

Jeff [11:08 AM]

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