Tag Archives: privacy

Digital clothes: What to wear on the Internet of Things

digital-clothes-big-data-internet-of-thingsWhen it comes to how much water we should drink every day, Chinese medicine teaches that we should drink when we’re thirsty. None of this eight-glasses-of-water-a-day business — a misunderstanding of a 1940s US Food and Nutrition Board recommendation that’s been widely exposed (see How much water do we need?). For those who’ve always believed in drinking when thirsty, there’s no longer a need to be aware of our bodily sensations. We can simply wear digitized clothes that will notify us when we need to drink.

Listen to your shirt. Smart clothing could warn its wearers when they need a drink. Xsensio, based in Switzerland, is developing textiles that look for signs of dehydration by measuring body temperature, sweat and skin conductance. Sensors also take air temperature and humidity into account. As a person becomes weary and thirsty, the shirt will send alerts reminding them to drink – useful for sporty types.

This information comes from New Scientist. A letter to the editor in a subsequent issue observes:

We are told “as the person becomes thirsty the shirt will send alerts reminding them to drink”. Isn’t that what the sensation of thirst does? Talk about pointless, redundant and wasteful technology. For their next trick, how about a hat that reminds you to breathe?

Well, interesting you should mention breathing. Read more

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Big Data, privacy, and civil disobedience

privacy-big-data-civil-disobedience

Back in May, Evgeny Morozov wrote a review for The New York Times Book Review of two books: The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? by Patrick Tucker and Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread — The Lessons From a New Science by Alex Pentland. The review is excellent. I’m mostly going to quote from this review (plus one of Morozov’s books), since this is a huge topic in which I have considerable interest but no expertise. I’ve been thinking about a JAMA article I read recently that discusses the need to convince the public to allow extensive use of Big Data in connection with health care (What’s that you bought at the grocery store? You didn’t renew your gym membership?), and Morozov’s ideas seem related. (Morozov, by the way, considers Big Data an “ugly, jargony name.”) Read more

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History of patient modesty part 2: Convincing patients to disrobe

Pelvic exam patient modestyIn part one of this post I explained how a new anatomical understanding of disease in the 19th century changed the practice of medicine. Prior to this insight, there was no need to expose the naked body to observation or to touch parts of the body that were normally clothed. In order to apply the anatomical theory of disease, doctors needed to discover what was happening inside the body. This required a new type of physical exam, with much greater exposure and invasion of the body. The new exam was an abrupt and significant change in the tradition of patient privacy and modesty.

Making patients blush

Doctors welcomed both the new understanding of disease and new techniques, such as the stethoscope, that gave them useful information about the interior of the body. Understanding and technique alone did nothing to improve the ability to treat disease, by the way. That came much later. What doctors could do was provide a better prognosis, thus avoiding futile and painful treatment of the terminally ill.

How did patients react to this change in medical practice? Unfortunately, we have very little direct information. Most of the evidence we have comes from doctors, not patients. Doctors tend not to record the routine and taken-for-granted nature of a patient encounter. The private diaries of patients undoubtedly recorded reactions to the more invasive physical exam, but historians of medicine have typically been more interested in uncovering evidence of new medical discoveries than in noting patient experiences.

There is every reason to believe that women found the new physical exam deeply embarrassing. For example, a woman’s diary entry from 1803 reads: “Doctor Williams called and made me undergo a blushing examination.” In 1881, Conan Doyle recorded that a female patient would not let him examine her chest. “Young doctors take such liberties, you know my dear,” she told him.

The indirect evidence we have comes from efforts of the medical profession to convince patients that the new physical exam was necessary and proper. This took two forms: Emphasizing the professionalism of doctors and arguing for the scientific nature of medicine. These 19th century changes in the image of medicine contain the seeds of a new relationship between doctor and patient. They led to a style of medical practice today that increases rather than eases patient concerns about privacy and modesty. Read more

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History of patient modesty part 1: How bodily exposure went from unacceptable to required

Patient in open-back gownEven doctors can be embarrassed when it comes time to expose their private parts to medical personnel. In an essay that appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association, a doctor describes her discomfort as she arrives for a colonoscopy appointment.

[A]s a person not exactly looking forward to the morning’s adventure, I found the receptionist’s demeanor and lack of eye contact wrapped me tight within a cold, impersonal cocoon. I was a subject. Though I hadn’t shared my sentiments with anyone, I felt both vulnerable and completely sheepish about having a very human reaction to such a common procedure. But this was my bottom and I was not happy to share it with others. Here to be exposed and invaded, in truth I was embarrassed and sought compassion. As anyone else would, I wanted to know that my discomfort, self-consciousness, and loss of control were understood. Instead, she exuded efficiency and delivered transparent quality assurance and poise.

The need to reveal private and intimate parts of our bodies is a routine occurrence in medical practice today. Though it may offend our modesty, we take it for granted that the embarrassing moments of a colonoscopy, a Pap test, or a prostate exam are necessary for our health.

Has it always been so? Have doctors always expected patients to disrobe? Have young male technicians always exposed the chests of female patients in need of a routine EKG? Have patients always been willing to allow doctors and their staff to view parts of the body normally seen by only the most intimate of partners? Read more

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Wikileaks, nerd supremacy, anarchy, dictatorship, and democracy

The information machineJaron Lanier, author of You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, has written a penetrating essay on the Information Age, using WikiLeaks to illustrate how romantic idealism can go wrong.

It’s a long article, published in The Atlantic. Here are some of the best parts. I hope these excerpts either save you some time or prompt you to read the whole thing. (emphasis added)

A free flow of digital information enables two diametrically opposed patterns: low-commitment anarchy on the one hand and absolute secrecy married to total ambition on the other. …

[P]eople are unable to resist becoming organized according to the digital architectures that connect us. The only way out is to change the architecture. …

The Internet as it is, which supports the abilities of Anonymous and Wikileaks, is an outgrowth of a particular design history which was influenced in equal degrees by 1960s romanticism and cold war paranoia. …

The Internet can and must be redesigned to reflect a more moderate and realistically human-centered philosophy. …

The existing Internet design is centered on creating the illusion of no-cost effort. But there is no such thing. It’s an illusion born of the idylls of youth, and leads to a distorted perception of the nature of responsibility. …

Read more

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The end of privacy

The end of privacyDid you know there’s a Gmail feature – Mail Goggles – that will prompt you to solve simple math problems before you hit send? This “soft paternalism” keeps you from doing something you’d regret later. By default, it’s only active late at night on weekends, “when you’re most likely to need it.” You can adjust the settings, though.

Here’s a long article (at NYT) — by a law professor — that discusses the dangers of oversharing and the “behavioral economics of privacy” — the trade-offs we make, consciously or unconsciously, when we decide to reveal or conceal information. (emphasis added)

[A] challenge that, in big and small ways, is confronting millions of people around the globe: how best to live our lives in a world where the Internet records everything and forgets nothing — where every online photo, status update, Twitter post and blog entry by and about us can be stored forever. …

[T]here was the 16-year-old British girl who was fired from her office job for complaining on Facebook, “I’m so totally bored!!”; there was the 66-year-old Canadian psychotherapist who tried to enter the United States but was turned away at the border — and barred permanently from visiting the country — after a border guard’s Internet search found that the therapist had written an article in a philosophy journal describing his experiments 30 years ago with L.S.D. …

The fact that the Internet never seems to forget is threatening, at an almost existential level, our ability to control our identities; to preserve the option of reinventing ourselves and starting anew; to overcome our checkered pasts.

A collective identity crisis

People change. Not just from youthful indiscretion to mature adult, but – ideally – people continue to discover and pursue new interests throughout a lifetime. (emphasis added) Read more

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