Smart technology like Amazon's Alexa is collecting your health info for marketing

Posted at 2:09 PM, Oct 25, 2018

If you use Alexa, listen to this. Instead of just playing your music or answering questions, it could soon tell if you're getting sick and suggest you buy things like cough drops or soup!

It’s just one of the ways health marketers are using technology to reach consumers.

A new thermometer app allows user to track fevers and symptoms. This flu season, Clorox paid to get that information and used it to target its ads to zip codes that had increases in fevers.

Daren Duber-Smith, a marketing processor at MSU Denver, says this marketing technique isn’t new. Companies like Google and Facebook are already sharing user information.

However, sharing health information is something new.

“I don't think when people are buying thermometers that they necessarily really know that these devices can not only collect a lot of data about them, but that they're under current regulations they're allowed to share that data,” Duber-Smith explains.  

Kinsa, the company that makes the smart thermometer, says this so called "illness data" doesn't have any identifying personal data when shared with other companies. 

But Kinsa’s thermometer, as well as Amazon’s new patent that could enable Alexa to detect cold symptoms, are just two of many technologies raising questions about privacy.

“I think when it comes to personal health, people might be willing to give up a little bit more privacy if they perceive that it's going to help them live longer and help them live healthier lives, or maybe save their lives in some instances,” Duber-Smith says.

Still, Duber-Smith believes how much is disclosed should be up to the consumer. 
Right now, there aren't any regulations. But he believes that could change in the next few years.   

“Companies are, I think, in the future are going to have to disclose far more of what they're going to be doing with the data and also give consumers the chance the opportunity to be able to control some or all of that data,” he says.