Electronic pills spark fresh wave of privacy concerns

This takes “invasive” to a whole new level.


If you worry about social networks and search engines like Facebook and Google tracking your every movement, wait till you hear about this nexus between technology and medicine. Researchers have begun to voice their concerns about electronic pills, thanks to their unnerving ability to collect data on patients from inside the body.

Those in favor argue that these pills would be beneficial for supervising medicinal intake. But those wary of electronic pills warn that they pose serious ethical risks for individual privacy. For example, the pills would offer extremely personal data on patients with mental disorders by monitoring their medication intake. Plus, through an app, patients can share their data with friends and family, which raises questions about medical confidentiality.

It’s also unclear just how long third parties like pharmaceutical companies would be allowed to access the data, and to what ends they’d use such information. On top of that, when it comes to hackability, electronic pills run the risk of spyware exploiting the software. It’s a minefield waiting to explode.

A voyeuristic tracker — The University of Copenhagen delved deeper into the knitty-gritty of electronic pills earlier in December.

“The data that the pills collect constitutes a data trail that reveals your state of health and your medicinal consumption. This is very sensitive data, which in the hands of third parties may affect a person’s life insurance premiums or job opportunities,” said Timo Minssen, who is a professor teaching intellectual property law in relation to synthetic biology at the University of Copenhagen.

The average individual is not yet fully aware of the alarming repercussions — ethical, intellectual, legal, medical, and otherwise — of such technology, the professor warned. “There is therefore a need for complete transparency,” Minssen implored, “and clarity on how pharmaceutical manufacturers will use and handle this data.”