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More like the Internet of Surveillance
May 27, 2014 3:20 AM   Subscribe

The more the Internet of Things knows about you, the more that insurance companies are able to slurp that data and incentivize you to walk the straight and narrow.

... IBM's Active Track program is just one option in its Healthy Living Rebates program, and participation is currently voluntary. But it doesn't take a tinfoil hat–wearing paranoid to envision such programs becoming mandatory – or, at minimum, "strongly encouraged" – as the "quantified self" becomes the norm with the evolution of wearable devices and other IoT innovations.
posted by Bella Donna (48 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gattaca here we come. It would be pretty shortsighted of us to just assume that our privacy will be protected in any way.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:28 AM on May 27 [5 favorites]


If they think I am the person they can cobble together from my Internet usage, they would probably scurry away from me shielding the eyes and ears of their children or chase me through the forest at night with torches and pitchforks or burn me at the stake or something.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:21 AM on May 27 [10 favorites]


Interesting contrast to the striking lack of information on the wealth of the richest - Piketty etcetera.
posted by YouRebelScum at 4:24 AM on May 27 [3 favorites]


The fact that Google, internet creepers extraordinaire, bought out a company that makes "smart" thermostats pretty much says it all.
posted by indubitable at 4:24 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Oddly enough, I am registered for something that starts this week called The Global Corporate Challenge wherein a metric ton of Fortune 500 companies incentivize their employees to get healthier to minimize their insurance premiums. Surprisingly, they'll also cut my premiums too by a substantial amount for participating. All I have to do is wear this gps enabled pedometer and provide a starting physical and ending physical where at least one stat has improved. HIPPA says what?
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:25 AM on May 27 [11 favorites]


> If they think I am the person they can cobble together from my Internet usage,

If indeed it's your usage at all, and not usage by the botnet that took over your toaster oven, coffee maker, and dishwasher last Tuesday.
posted by jfuller at 4:40 AM on May 27 [20 favorites]


HIPPA says what?

HIPAA says it's completely legal. You are *offering* that information, and since they are paying for your health insurance, they have a financial tie to the information -- one of the way that you are allowed to have PHI. (You, those you designate, those you treat you, and those who pay is the short form of who can have access.)

Personally, I track all the information my company wants, and I won't give it to them. I am sorely tempted to get the fitbit and put it into a paint shaker. Those of you with dogs, well, I think a collar is a splendid place for a fitbit, right?

But this is part of a larger effort. Employer sponsored healthcare will end in the US in ten years, top, probably much sooner. Once everyone knows that ACA isn't going away, they'll stop providing plans and provide a stipend for you to go get whatever plan.

And, of course, they then will completely control how much that stipend goes up every year. Seriously, this is a CFO's wet dream. They'll just not increase it as fast as the plans are increasing, you'll gradually end up paying for the whole thing out of pocket, Corporate Profits Up, Worker Real Wages Down.

Why do you think ACA was originally called "RomneyCare?" This was a GOP idea, because they knew the end game was going to be spending significantly less on workers by *forcing* them to buy health insurance on their own.

This is also why, despite tons of "votes" to do so, ACA isn't going away. The Money GOP doesn't want it to go. They'll let the Tea Party cast 50 votes to make it go away, knowing that it won't because even if the Senate agreed, the President would veto.
posted by eriko at 4:43 AM on May 27 [26 favorites]


If they think I am the person they can cobble together from my Internet usage, they would probably scurry away from me shielding the eyes and ears of their children or chase me through the forest at night with torches and pitchforks or burn me at the stake or something.

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s just the internet
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:45 AM on May 27 [3 favorites]


Interesting contrast to the striking lack of information on the wealth of the richest

When the wealthy collect data on you, it's good business; when you collect data on the wealthy, it's class warfare.
posted by logicpunk at 4:53 AM on May 27 [31 favorites]


If indeed it's your usage at all, and not usage by the botnet that took over your toaster oven, coffee maker, and dishwasher last Tuesday.


Well, then, clever me, I don't have any of those things.





just four or five projectors and three laptops and several wifi cameras and fuck it i am sitting on a massive pile of gadgets like some kind of 21st century cave dragon.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:06 AM on May 27 [12 favorites]


Wow, a story from the Register. I stopped reading El Reg when they punted all discussion of their "climate change is a conspiracy" articles down to a sub-level of their forum. Even before then, it was getting hard to ignore the neo-liberal, greed-is-good, macs-are-bad train of thought that seemed to run through their articles. After all, isn't this the site that popularised the word "freetard" when discussing Linux?

In the real world, there are such a complicated set of variables that this sort of future prediction is always - always - bunkum. And consider the source! Has O'Reilly ever knowingly said anything that made sense when speaking in a public forum? Perhaps this is the flipside to editing books full of code; when given free reign he seems to yabber mindlessly. In the unlikely event that he is proved right I shall regard it as being a side effect of throwing enough mud at the wall.
posted by The River Ivel at 5:07 AM on May 27


This came up at our last health insurance renewal presentation -- the insurance agent mentioned that because of their commitment to our health, our health insurer now offers online apps! for tracking food! and physical activity! and they're FREE!

When I asked if the apps reported back to the insurer, she said she didn't know, because nobody had ever asked that. (I asked her if she could look into it, but she never got back to me.)

I want to believe that people will push back against this kind of thing, but I'm not convinced. :-/
posted by pie ninja at 5:09 AM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Well, then, clever me, I don't have any of those things.

Isn't the takeaway from this that, in the 21st C, the toaster has you?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:12 AM on May 27 [3 favorites]


Humans will always find every possible way to squeeze dollars from humanity.
posted by davebush at 5:17 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]


When will we get the "In America, TV watches you" jokes?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:22 AM on May 27


If you have an XBOX One, that's not even speculative. It's reality.
posted by indubitable at 5:26 AM on May 27


There are few phrases I find as grating as Internet of Things. I'm pretty sure in 10 years it will seem ridiculous that anyone ever called it that. It's the new cyberspace.
posted by oulipian at 5:32 AM on May 27 [6 favorites]


While very interesting in re, this makes for an amazing read when considered in the light of the recent computer storyline in Mad Men.
posted by rudster at 5:34 AM on May 27


There are few phrases I find as grating as Internet of Things. I'm pretty sure in 10 years it will seem ridiculous that anyone ever called it that. It's the new cyberspace.

Cybering things is still very prevalent in public policy, to my ongoing irritation. Cyber-crime, cyber-bullying, cyber-safety, cyber-commissioners, cyber-publishing and a few, lonely people under 40 who don't think that computers are magic in a corner shouting "IT'S CRIME! CRIME ON THE INTERNET IS JUST PLAIN CRIME!".
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:44 AM on May 27 [12 favorites]


This piece seems like a whole lotta nothing. A few bullets about how insurance is going to be the big business for the internet of things, a delightful "Well, maybe" at the start of paragraph 13, and then multiple paragraphs of speculation. It's true that the Internet Things is going to be the way that corporations take control of our lives. Well, maybe.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:53 AM on May 27


I have private health insurance in the UK and currently get 35 percent discounted each year, in arrears, if I visit the gym four times a week. I swipe a card at the turnstile and the data is automatically uploaded. Suits me so far.
posted by colie at 6:01 AM on May 27


There are few phrases I find as grating as Internet of Things. I'm pretty sure in 10 years it will seem ridiculous that anyone ever called it that.

I strongly suspect that the "Internet of Things" will become the "Internet of Drivers We No Longer Support" before then.
posted by malocchio at 6:27 AM on May 27 [10 favorites]


Employer sponsored healthcare will end in the US in ten years, top, probably much sooner.

We can only hope; Employee sponsored healthcare is a gun pointed at the head of every worker with a family.

re: the internet of things, I don't worry about my employee knowing a lot about what I do as much as it feels bad to have this sort of data accessible via the internet anyway. We are buying a house, and have been getting calls from home automation companies. I get that being able to control my locks, thermostat, security system and lights from my phone is supposed to be living in the future, but that sort of seems ripe from abuse from basically anyone.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 6:33 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure how it works in the UK, but in the US, employer-sponsored health insurance charges everyone the same premiums. A subsidy for going to the gym 4 times a week would effectively be a back-door rate increase on women and parents of young children, as well as many with disabilities.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 6:34 AM on May 27 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure how it works in the UK, but in the US, employer-sponsored health insurance charges everyone the same premiums. A subsidy for going to the gym 4 times a week would effectively be a back-door rate increase on women and parents of young children, as well as many with disabilities.

My employer, here in the US, has implemented a "Wellness Program" where, if you earn enough points, you get lower premiums. I looked into this and I discovered two things, one reasonable but unpleasant and one a clear end-run on HIPAA: first, if I want credit for bike commuting year-round, I need an RFID chip on my bike and I need to ride past an RFID reader every day on my way in, which, I don't think so; and second, you can do all the things in terms of gym attendance (the gym is $68/month for the cheapest membership!) and using your "healthy food discount card* and so on....but those things don't have very many points attached. In order to actually get the discount, you have to do an annual wellness assessment and health coaching, and you get dinged if you don't follow their doc-in-a-box recommendations. And the data you provide is shared with the employer - allegedly, identifiers are scrubbed, but this place is relatively small - it would be easy to narrow down who has had cancer or a surgery or has a chronic medical condition.

So I'm pretty resigned to paying an extra $400 a year, because no way am I making over my health data to my employer and taking their recommendations over those of my actual doctor.



*Which applies only to healthy packaged food! I was all excited because I feel like I'm going broke buying fresh vegetables! But no, it's only, like, "whole grain" cereals and stuff.
posted by Frowner at 6:50 AM on May 27 [9 favorites]


Plus, I add, the discount wouldn't even pay for gym membership!
posted by Frowner at 6:51 AM on May 27 [2 favorites]


Ralston McTodd -- The way they get around this is that they still charge everyone the same -- however, they also offer everyone the same access to certain "discounts". If they choose skip the discount, it's not the insurance company/employer's fault.

My current company has a policy that if you attend a "health fair" (which provides them with things like weight, BP, smoking status, etc), you get $200 discount on your insurance (spread out over the year). If you fall within their "health" parameters, you get an additional $400 off. If you don't, you can get the $400 by attending 3 sessions with a "health coach". The insurance company deemed my weight was too much to be healthy. If neither my primary care Dr, my diabetes Dr, nor my cardiologist is concerned about my weight, I don't see what business it is of the insurance company. But I did the health fair and gritted my teeth through the required 3 sessions on Managing My Weight (which told me nothing I didn't already know) to save the $50 per month. But I fear that this is just the beginning.
posted by pbrim at 6:58 AM on May 27


I'm not sure how it works in the UK, but in the US, employer-sponsored health insurance charges everyone the same premiums. A subsidy for going to the gym 4 times a week would effectively be a back-door rate increase on women and parents of young children, as well as many with disabilities.

Hah! while this is true - the way insurance agencies are getting around this in the US is through a Tiered provider system. Its the latest fad to screw over members.

I worked for a company that went from excellent insurance to really poor insurance by swapping to a tiered plan. The company saved (by the back of the envelope) about $3.5MM, as our premiums all went down by making the change - which might sound like a lot as it represented what I also estimated as a 10% reduction of overall cost... It did lower premiums by about two dollars a week, or $104 for the year. That's pretty big savings for the corporate bottom line, and seemingly good savings for the employees as well! Except, the actual savings to the corporate bottom line was closer toless than a hundredth of a percent. Moreover, the difference, was made up in how much it cost to visit a good doctor - or likely whatever doctor you saw the prior year.

The list of tier 1 hospitals included places where employees provided multiple anecdotes and questions like "I got staph from there because the doctors don't wash their hands. Is the cost of gloves and soap the difference between a tier 1 and tier 3 hospital?"

Surgery for my kids increased 10x in cost because I went with the good hospital. Labs were positioned such that they cost the maximum amount without going against your max annual charge... The tiered system basically is/was an assault on anyone that actually needed care. So yeah, everyone paid the same premium, but they made sure to find other ways to burden the cost of illness on the employee.

Now, what would have the cost been to employees to handle the increase in insurance rate to keep our old plan - even if the company broke their 30-70 premium coverage? Once again, at a back of the napkin calculation, I came up with about $0.08 a week. Seriously. For $3.5MM in savings to the corporate bottom lineand $104 dollars off my premium, I accepted a 3x cost increase for non-wellness visits and 10x the cost of surgical procedures.

I left. Of all the reasons to leave a company - this was mine (there were other reasons too, but this was the straw that broke the camel's back). The burden of healthcare went on the employee.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:59 AM on May 27 [3 favorites]


Isn't the takeaway from this that, in the 21st C, the toaster has you?

I once had a grill.
Or should I say it once had me?
It showed me my stats,
They were not good
Norwegians would grill less fatty food and thus pay lower insurance premiums
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:02 AM on May 27 [7 favorites]


All I have to do is wear this gps enabled pedometer and provide a starting physical and ending physical where at least one stat has improved.

Welcome to the panopticon.

Behave well.
posted by flabdablet at 7:21 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]


I work for a company that's routinely at the top of privacy surveys, held up as an example of the industry. Shortly after I worked there, they did one of those "everyone gets $10k in free life insurance" things, I tried to opt-out, but by the time it all came down I'd been signed up.

I don't know how these things work, but I figure that fora buck and a half a month or so in benefit to me, the benefits company get some sort of wacky end-run around HIPAA and other things that'd normally prevent them from selling private data to marketers.

And my employer, held up as an exemplar to the industry, wasn't pushing back.

Sigh.

And, yes, I think "Internet of Things" puts the "iot" in "idiot", but at least it beats "M2M" (nominally "machine to machine") for sounding less like a craigslist category.
posted by straw at 7:25 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Finally the US market system has an incentive to encourage people to lose weight.

It feels like a first - seems like everything else is akin to HFCS subsidies.
posted by Setec Astronomy at 7:33 AM on May 27


A subsidy for going to the gym 4 times a week would effectively be a back-door rate increase on women and parents of young children, as well as many with disabilities.

I'm not here to defend insurance companies and I realise there's a far bigger picture than my anecdata, but I do have young children and my wife is on the scheme too (we have no nanny). We often took our kid to the gym's pool on weekends/after nursery and got awarded the discount points that way. This insurance has got me into the gym a lot more over the past 7 years or so than I would have gone otherwise and I've paid less for it, and when I claimed I got access to London's best hospitals.
posted by colie at 7:50 AM on May 27


The burden of healthcare went on the employee.

Employer paid health care began in the 1930s but only really took off during the second world war when raises were not on offer and employers had to woo workers with fringe benefits. Like all things bureaucratic, once it started, it was hard to stop. To the extent that it is part of your total compensation package (like the employer "contribution" to Social Security) the cost is still on the employee - that is to say, you didn't get the option to take more money instead. Of course you would have to be a very black sheep indeed to go that route and HR is not set up to accommodate black sheep, but bottom line, the premiums are coming out of the employee compensation entry; it's still "your" money we're talking about.

Question then is, does the illusion that someone else is paying for this help drive up costs over all? According to Lewis Thomas, aspiring doctors in the 1930s (we're talking Harvard Med here) were advised to marry money because it was dead certain they would not get rich on medicine.

Granted, the insurance as payer of first resort model is convenient, but financially it's absurd. You normally buy insurance against big hit catastrophes - house burns down, car gets totaled, cancer is diagnosed? It makes no sense to get insurance for leaking toilets, oil changes, or flu shots. Doing so just adds another outstretched palm to each transaction.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:05 AM on May 27 [4 favorites]


coming soon: gps in every car so the government can tax you by the mile. oregon is talking about this because "these newer fuel-efficient cars are depriving us of gas tax revenue." of course, they could just raise the tax rate at the gas pump, which would have the added benefit of sticking tourists and locals alike, but the gps has an added benefit too in surveilling you.
posted by bruce at 9:03 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]


They will find us and cry to us, "Feed us, for those who have promised us fire from heaven haven't given it!" And then we shall finish building their tower, for he finishes the building who feeds them. And we alone shall feed them in Thy name, declaring falsely that it is in Thy name. Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, "Make us your slaves, but feed us."

Dostoevsky Bros. Karamazov
posted by bukvich at 9:54 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]


eriko: Those of you with dogs, well, I think a collar is a splendid place for a fitbit, right?

A FitBit can track sleep, too. Are you sure you want your HR department thinking you sleep that much? :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:02 AM on May 27 [1 favorite]


HIPPA says what?

HIPAA says we're going to complicate exchange of information and make research very difficult without improving your privacy one iota.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:02 AM on May 27 [4 favorites]


I could see this as being a problem if corporations weren't looking out for our best interests. Can you imagine living in that kind of distopia?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:10 AM on May 27 [6 favorites]


I'm on my husband's health insurance and they've started to institute this kind of nonsense. My personal favorite was when they called me up (and scared the living shit out of me, I'd recently had some bloodwork done) to talk about how fat I was and what they could do for me. I said "are you going to pay for my gym membership? no? ok, then shut up."

The hospital dietician I consulted said I eat too little. My doctor says I eat too much. (She's seen my food diary, he hasn't). The dietician said I know more about nutrition/etc than about 99% of her patients. The doctor said weightlifting isn't working out, and all I need to do is cardio.

If I can't even get two medical professionals in one of the better hospital systems in the country to agree on a course of action, what the fuck makes people think that insurance companies know shit about shit, pardon my French?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:24 AM on May 27 [10 favorites]


My workplace also does the discount if you pass a screening or do three counseling sessions in the first half of the year. I do screening and then pass on the counseling. It's half the discount and a lot less aggravating.

The thing I seriously don't like is that my spouse, and now me with my recent hospitalization, have been "assigned" a "nurse" by my insurer to help us "get the best care possible" from our providers. They call at all hours until they get a response. If you talk to them once they start trying to schedule conversations every few weeks. If you miss an "appointment" they start with the spam calling all over again.

On the surface, the questions do seem like they're trying to maximize your care by double-checking against their binder of scripts. Upon reflection, though, it really feels like a fishing expedition for making counter-claims or denying future claims based on some technicality. Then again, I'm way paranoid about insurance carriers of all sorts so perhaps this is all above the board. At any rate, both my spouse and I send them directly to voicemail these days.
posted by Fezboy! at 12:50 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


A smallish subset of people will push back against this stuff, but we will be left in the dust by the many who are happy to camp out in front of the Apple store overnight for the chance to be one of the cool people with the latest cool gadget. The Big Data machine doesn't have to figure out how to impose surveillance on us; we are lining up for the privilege of buying the surveillance technology with our own money. We are excited to install it ourselves in our own homes and bodies. We show it off, and we are pleased to apply our own time, energy, imagination and intelligence to devise ways to feed the data beast more and more information about our quantified lives. It's already getting difficult to remember what privacy felt like.
posted by Corvid at 1:37 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]




> at least it beats "M2M" (nominally "machine to machine") for sounding less like a craigslist category.

Damned if I didn't think that about P2P, but I could never quite visualize who or what the Ps were.
posted by jfuller at 5:43 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Welcome to the New, Monetized Internet, Where Privacy Is Going to Cost You
Since it powers our daily lives like electricity, we tend to treat the Internet like a public utility. We pay every month for the privilege of using it and we depend on it in much the same way we depend on flipping a light switch to brighten a dark room—it’s always going to work the same way, every time. As opposed to a cell phone contract that chargers users extra for the number of text messages sent or data used, our Internet fees hold steady every month regardless of how much we’re using it.

But the Internet isn’t a public utility. It’s a private service, subject to the whims of the market and the companies that control it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:08 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


Gattaca here we come.

Here are some more scenarios.
posted by homunculus at 8:53 PM on June 3






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