Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Putting private data to public good

I was very pleased to read about IBM's collaboration with US cancer institutions. Using the history of people's cancer treatments and their progress to help determine the most effective treatment for a newly diagnosed patient. This is a great example of putting private data to public good. I have been looking for similar opportunities in the health sector for many years. There is so much scope to use historical diagnoses, demographic data, treatments and outcomes to forecast the risk and efficacy of various treatment options. However, I have found a pretty solid wall declaring such data couldn't be used for "privacy" reasons. This is a real shame, for if I were diagnosed with an illness where the health specialist was deciding between various drug therapies and surgical options, I would like that specialist to make use of all the information available. Of course, very experienced health specialists will have a vast range of experience and read reams of published studies. But I am sure that a data mining model over national (or even international) databases would help estimate risks and efficacies of the various treatment options.

I find the general concern over "data privacy" intriguing. Whether it's your Google search terms, driving records, telephone calls, everyone must accept that their personal data is held somewhere. Why are we so paranoid about our privacy? We have lived in communities for thousands of years, where we are known about in the community. We could all withdraw with curtains drawn and minimal social interaction but we would then miss out on so many community benefits.

I hope that in the future, we can all open our blinds and see more "private" data put to public good.

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