Healthcare is rapidly changing with the introduction of new data-driven technologies and the use of complex sensor and monitoring devices. With devices being able to monitor, analyse, and even modify human behaviour, immediate actions are needed to understand this technology on a wider level and address the ethical and legal considerations that come with the internet of bodies. This blog presents the concept of Internet of Bodies (IoB) and explains the benefits and risks involved with the technology. The possibilities of governance in this new area will also be discussed.
What is the Internet of Bodies, and how does it affect us?
What are the benefits and risks associated with data-driven technologies (Internet of Bodies)?
What are the possibilities of governance of the Internet of Bodies data?
Advancements in technology are being made at unprecedented rates, and with the introduction of Internet of Bodies (IoB), an extraordinary number of connected devices and sensors are being used, fixed, implanted, or ingested into the human body. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, wearable technologies such as health and location trackers are increasingly coming into the spotlight. This has caused people to get excited about their benefits, but debate has also started on the risks involved. Those in favour of such devices argue that these devices can help public health authorities to better predict future disease outbreaks, manage and avert future pandemics, and help businesses to open safely again. Those in doubt raise several questions about the implications for privacy and equity. Internet of Bodies is evolving rapidly and its future is unknown. It is for this reason that careful attention must be given to the subject from governments, civil societies, and the public at large.
Internet of Bodies (IoB)
The human body is being transformed into a technology platform with connected devices and sensors being fixed to or even implanted in the human body. This phenomenon is known as Internet of Bodies (IoB), and it generates a tremendous amount of biometric and human behavioural data, which in turn fuels the transformation of health research and industry. IoB also raises new challenges for data governance as matters of individual privacy and autonomy generate the risk of discrimination and bias in employment, education, finance, access to health insurance, and other important factors of social distribution. IoB devices generally include medical devices, a variety of lifestyle and fitness tracking devices, and smart consumer devices that stay in close proximity to the human body. IoB devices do not include devices installed in public and private spaces which use biometric technology; rather, these devices are “personal devices” that have a steady relationship with an individual’s body. IoB devices can be characterised as non-invasive and less-invasive, in the sense that they are not expected to interfere with the function of the body, or as invasive in terms of sensors which are implanted to become a part of the body. These devices can also be used besides health monitoring, such as implanted chips that speed up access to home, office, or other restricted areas, augmented reality, and help with disability aid devices. (RAND Corp., 2020) (World Economic Forum, 2020)
The Benefits and Risks Associated with Internet of Bodies (IoB)
Transformations in health research and industry are being propelled by the variety and vast amount of data collected through IoB devices. Firstly, the technology is enabling remote patient tracking and reducing cross-infection. Continuous data on vital signs of patients allows doctors to help ageing patients more effectively and people with chronic diseases. Remote sensing has also been used in the fight against COVID-19. Secondly, the use of IoB devices improves patient engagement and promotes a healthy lifestyle. Patients can be engaged beyond traditional medicine architecture. Wearing smart devices can share realtime data with care providers for a more interactive experience. This also reduces admission rates and medical costs. Thirdly, it advances preventive care and preventive medicine. The data gathered by IoB devices allow physicians to spot diseases early and prescribe preventive measures. The volume of data helps in advancing precision medical research through the integration of artificial intelligence and big data analytics, providing deeper insights into previously unexplored areas. From 2012 to 2017, more than 500 studies explored the use of Fitbit devices, with research conducted on a wide variety of topics. Lastly, the technology enhances workplace safety in hazardous workplaces such as construction sites, mines, and factories to track worker location, oversee environmental risks, reduce exposure to injuries, and mitigate risks by issuing information remotely. (World Economic Forum, 2020)
Besides these social benefits, there are risks associated with the misuse of data that contains intimate details of personal health and behaviours. Concerns related to consumer trust, safety, security, and interoperability are increasing with time as more people get to know the technology better. The first issue is the interoperability and accuracy of data. With millions of devices deployed in the health eco-system, IoB devices go with the body to which they are attached. Due to the dominance of propriety and close communication methods being used for intercommunication of devices, the interoperability of these devices remains low and difficult due to many technical reasons. Data accuracy is also a concern, especially with consumer fitness devices. There are very poorly detailed laws and regulations related to these devices, and clinical accuracy is not achieved due to the varying quality and capability of IoB devices. Another concern is related to cybersecurity and privacy. Internet-based devices are susceptible to hacking and cyberattacks, which pose human life to potential physical harm and privacy risk. Data from these devices can be used to track the location of individuals and also lead to leak of sensitive details such as commuting patterns and other sensitive data. Lastly, there is a risk of discrimination and fairness in data analytics systems. When data from IoB devices is connected with a host of other information, it can lead to a bias against a particular group. Therefore, the benefits and risks of IoB devices mandate proper rules and regulations of its use.
Policy Guide for Governance of Internet of Bodies (IoB) Data
While the manufacturing and security of IoB devices may be subject to different government regulation, the focus here is on the collection, transfer, use of IoB data, and particularly the risk of discrimination that comes with data analytics. There is an urgent need to define “health data” to regulate the frequent flow of data across multiple sectors and contexts. High volumes of physiological data and biometric details that far exceed the traditional definition of health information is being collected at a fast rate. This data, when combined with retail information and social media, can be used to deduce details about an individual’s physical and mental health. Secondly, balancing data utility and extending data protection principles is another key aspect of governing IoB data. The vase amount of data generated in IoB technology is a big part of big data analytics. In practice, it is difficult to foresee the purposes and secondary use of data. The third aspect of governance of IoB data is to categorise “sensitive data”. As some data is more sensitive than others, and even non-personal meta-data can also be sensitive, inferences about someone’s health conditions can be derived from indirect data. Health and behavioural data can also be used to make predictions about someone’s decisions related to insurance, employment, and finance. Lastly, privacy management and consent regulation has become increasingly challenging as it is difficult to trace data being collected and how it is being used. Interconnected big data environments may exhibit privacy interdependence, in which one’s privacy is affected by decisions made by others. (Ben-Hassine, 2020)
Broad adoption of Internet of Bodies devices has emerged in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. These devices use complex algorithms and sensors to collect data related to health and other related biometric data. There are ample benefits to this technology as it provides healthcare professionals to engage in a more holistic manner with their patients and diagnose diseases earlier than before. But the risks involved with relation to privacy and equity have raised much debate on the issue of misuse of IoB data in Big Data Analytics. Therefore, governance of this new technology sector is the need of the future to secure people.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, wearable technologies such as health and location trackers are increasingly coming into the spotlight.
The human body is being transformed into a technology platform with connected devices and sensors being fixed to or even implanted in the human body.
IoB devices generally include medical devices, a variety of lifestyle and fitness tracking devices, and smart consumer devices that stay in close proximity to the human body.
IoB devices can also be used besides health monitoring, such as implanted chips that speed up access to home, office, or other restricted areas, augmented reality, and help with disability aid devices.
The technology is enabling remote patient tracking and reducing cross-infection.
The use of IoB devices improves patient engagement and promotes a healthy lifestyle.
Concerns related to consumer trust, safety, security, and interoperability are increasing with time as more people get to know the technology better.
There are very poorly detailed laws and regulations related to these devices, and clinical accuracy is not achieved due to the varying quality and capability of IoB devices.
There is an urgent need to define “health data” to regulate the frequent flow of data across multiple sectors and contexts.
Ben-Hassine, W. (2020). Government Policy for the Internet Must Be Rights-Based and User-Centred. Retrieved from United Nations: https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/government-policy-internet-must-be-rights-based-and-user-centred
RAND Corp. (2020). The Internet of Bodies Will Change Everything, for Better or Worse. Retrieved from RAND Corporation: https://www.rand.org/blog/articles/2020/10/the-internet-of-bodies-will-change-everything-for-better-or-worse.html#:~:text=What%20Is%20the%20Internet%20of%20Bodies%3F&text=IoB%20devices%20monitor%20the%20human,trackers%2C%20are%20already%20in%20use.
World Economic Forum. (2020). Shaping the Future of the Internet of Bodies .
World Economic Forum. (2020). The Internet of Bodies is here. This is how it could change our lives. Retrieved from World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/internet-of-bodies-covid19-recovery-governance-health-data/