Some companies, including Walmart, are hiring third-party firms like Castlight Healthcare Inc. to help them reduce their health care costs. Concern is that some of this “help” includes tracking when a woman has stopped filling her birth-control prescriptions and made fertility-related searches on Castlight’s health app.
An article in the Wall Street Journal this week stated that the collected data about employees help employers calculate people’s risks of certain health conditions. It scared a bunch of folks, especially on the Internet, who thought the app was a set up for pregnancy discrimination.
You could imagine the part about the app sending alerts about one’s personal and private moves sounds invasive and scary!
But it turns out the alerts are sent to the employees who are then “nudged” to make healthier choices that could lower their (and their employer’s) health care costs in the long run.
Data collected from the app is matched with the woman’s age, and if applicable, the ages of her children to compute the likelihood of an impending pregnancy, Castlight’s chief research and development officer Jonathan Rende, Castlight said. 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.
The employers only receive data in the aggregate and stripped form any personal-identifiable information.
Still, people think about that Target incident a few years ago, where the big box store used big data marketing analysis to send women who didn’t even know if they were pregnant yet coupons for baby products. Infamously, a father got a teen daughter’s baby coupons and learned before the teen could tell her dad that she thought she could be pregnancy.
These data-mining platforms are risky because sensitive health data is at risk of breaches and hackers, worse than a boss knowing that you’re looking to get pregnant in the near future.
It still pretty scary stuff!