Data and Devices: The Information We Share

RAND mathematician Mary Lee describes the wide variety of personal data collected by smart devices and applications, such as smartwatches, brain implants, and period trackers.


Mary Lee, Mathematician

Technology is increasingly being used in ways that rely on the collection of personal data. Some examples of devices that collect personal data are everyday consumer wearables that we're familiar with now, like smartwatches and fitness trackers. There are other wearables like smart clothing, smart diapers, and pacifiers. There are medical devices that collect information like pacemakers and other implants. There are ingestible digital pills that tell you whether you've taken your prescribed medication, as well. And digital health apps on your phone are also collecting your data.

The types of personal data that are being collected depend on the device. Your smartphone might be capturing your location data. Period apps are capturing your menstrual cycle information. Genetic home testing kits are collecting your DNA. Your smartwatch might be recording your heart rate, step count, and body temperature. Your sleep apnea machine might be recording whether you've plugged into the device and how you're sleeping. You might have a cochlear implant that's capturing everything you hear, and you might have a brain implant that's trying to capture what you think. So, it's quite a wide variety of different technologies that are collecting private data about us.

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