Oct 24, 2019

Research participants' privacy threat

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Technology has advanced to the point where research study participants can be identified by their MRI scans even after all other identifying information has been stripped, according to an experiment detailed yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine and reported on by the New York Times.

Why it matters: If stored medical data were leaked, it could potentially be used to identify study participants for marketing, scams or even stalking.

The big picture, per the WSJ: These "results are the latest to find technology has outflanked privacy protections in health care, where an aggressive push is under way to amass and mine medical data from patient medical records, research, medical devices and consumer technology such as smartwatches."

Details: An MRI includes a person's entire head, and imaging technology is advanced enough to create a reconstruction of the face from the scan.

  • That facial reconstruction can then be matched, in some circumstances, to a photo of the person who received the scan via facial recognition software, NYT reports.

Yes, but: The experiment, performed by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, included only 84 subjects. Some privacy experts question whether the process could be replicated among a larger population with current technology.

Our thought bubble: With ever more advanced AI, details about our bodies and behaviors — even data we’ve long forgotten we’ve shared — can come back to identify us.

Go deeper: Medical AI has a big data problem

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IBM calls for regulation to avoid facial recognition bans

Facial recognition at Dulles Airport. Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post/Getty

IBM, one of several Big Tech companies selling facial recognition programs, is calling on Congress to regulate the technology — but not too much.

Why it matters: China has built a repressive surveillance apparatus with facial recognition; now, some U.S. cities are rolling it out for law enforcement. But tech companies worry that opponents will react to these developments by kiboshing the technology completely.

Go deeperArrowNov 6, 2019

Health insurers are eating higher medical costs

Data: Company filings; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Almost all of the major health insurance companies are spending more on medical care this year than they have in the past.

The big picture: Rising prices and more services for some sicker patients are among the many reasons why this is happening. That uptick in spending has freaked out Wall Street, even though insurers are still quite profitable.

Go deeperArrowNov 7, 2019

The global shortage of privacy experts

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's more important than ever for companies to have privacy experts, to help them obey proliferating laws on how consumers' data can be used — but it's hard to find people with the expertise to do it.

Why it matters: Privacy is a once-and-future battleground. Without more qualified professionals, everyone’s sensitive information could fall vulnerable to corporate ignorance, mismanagement and whim.

Go deeperArrowNov 1, 2019