The Wall Street Journal article “Bosses Tap Outside Firms to Predict Which Workers Might Get Sick” confirms “big data” and technology fears regarding privacy. The Cut and The Verge break down how employers hire third-parties to predict any illnesses future hires or current employees might have, in order to cut down on rising health-care costs. Castlight, a new product that scans insurance claims, is one such company hired to predict what employees may be at risk for.
Companies such as Walmart hire these health data firms under the guise of helping employees lead healthier lives to monitor and track everything from filling a birth-control prescription (or not), to looking at risks for (costly) illnesses like diabetes or chronic back pain. In the case of contraceptives, Castlight uses an algorithm—factoring in the woman’s age, last time she filled a birth-control prescription and current number of children—to calculate the likelihood of pregnancy. Castlight may then, through their app, send the woman messages regarding prenatal care. In this manner, Castlight and other such health data firms claim to be a positive information and resource tool.
The Wall Street Journal notes that employers “generally aren’t allowed to know which individuals are flagged by data mining,” thereby somewhat protecting individuals. However, those concerned with privacy are still uncomfortable with the existence and use of these third party health data firms.
Is there a real fear in the information aggregated by third-party health data firms? If so, how can employees be protected or protect themselves from surveillance?