BY: CAROLINE ROLF
We are surrounded by its unstoppable force and the impending possibility that technology will dictate everything humans do. Yes, technological advancements have solved many of our problems, but they have also raised concerns about our privacy and anonymity. Data disclosing what websites you browse, who you vote for and your personal health information could be used by employers to influence your behavior.
We have a good reason for concern, reports The Wall Street Journal, as some companies (are you familiar with the infamous Walmart?) are attempting to cut health care costs by working with insurers and wellness firms to anticipate employees’ health concerns and suggest individualized treatment. This outside help has been hired to collect information on whether employees use birth control and are physically active in order to make suggestions regarding possible health hazards. Think diabetes, cancer and heart problems.
Early intervention can help employers cut health care costs. This rationale for wellness firms like ActiveHealth Management Inc. makes sense if you completely write off any concern for privacy. If an employee is at risk for obesity, for example, they could be visited by a doctor and encouraged to join a weight-loss program within the company. Some female employees are feeling especially disrespected, learning that insurance claims can be scanned to see when women stop their birth control prescriptions or begin fertility treatments. This invasion of privacy could see these women receiving messages about preventative measures or prenatal care.
Some women feel that having this level of transparency with an employer and wellness firm is a real disturbance to their freedom.
The Wall Street Journal explains, “That data is matched with the woman’s age, and if applicable, the ages of her children to compute the likelihood of an impending pregnancy, says Jonathan Rende, Castlight’s chief research and development officer. She would then start receiving emails or in-app messages with tips for choosing an obstetrician or other prenatal care. If the algorithm guessed wrong, she could opt out of receiving similar messages.”
Apparently, the only data the wellness firms are allowed to use when consulting employers has to be authorized by the employee first. Castlight’s senior project manager insists that there is no way employers could access personal employee information to make employment decisions, but understands that women feel concerned.
This product was supposedly developed because employers claimed that their workers didn’t understand their benefits or how they could be used to make major decisions about their health.
Nonetheless, gender discrimination is still very much present in the workplace. This seems to be something that even the most advanced technology can’t solve. If employers have the information to hire, and more likely fire women based on the likelihood of them becoming pregnant, then this invasion of privacy will prove much more troublesome than beneficial.