Perspectives: Interoperability and Privacy: Are They Mutually Exclusive?

Thomas H. Lee M.D. has an opinion piece on iHealthBeat that is worth reading. Here’s part of it:

The Dissonance of Functional Interoperability

At first glance, functional interoperability appears to be relatively achievable, certainly when compared with the difficult challenges associated with technical interoperability. It’s simply a matter of developing sharing rules, privacy regulations and authentication protocols, right?

A deeper look suggests that simply might not be the case. Information is a valuable asset both to individual consumers and to commercial vendors. However, it resides in many disparate locations, and the tools for aggregating and sharing that information cannot be readily developed by individuals themselves. Thus, individuals are inherently dependent on third-party organizations such as vendors to host and provide that information.

Though vendors are the most able to offer these information services for the benefit of the individual, they must also support these services with a viable business model. Such business models can range from ad-supported revenue to subscription and transaction-based fees, but the underlying principles are universal: information is more valuable to an organization when it is more complete and more unique than what other organizations can offer.

It is this simple principle that not only creates disincentives for sharing information with competitors and other related organizations (as in the case with Facebook), but also fosters incentives for individuals to disclose as much as they can about themselves, despite concerns about privacy.

The less information individuals share with vendors and other related parties due to privacy concerns, the less valuable the product/service becomes to the vendor. A company with online traffic from 20% of all known diabetics will be worth more than double that of a company with the same volume of diabetic traffic but with only half reporting themselves as such due to privacy concerns.

Adding to the complexity, there are capitalist forces that promote interoperability at the expense of privacy (reselling data to third parties, transaction-based models) as well as privacy at the expense of interoperability (corporate consolidation/oligopolies, privacy-based subscription services). It is this fluid, complex dynamic that we’re just beginning to see in the social networking space. And, as the stakes get higher, it’s unlikely that it will get any simpler in the future.

Read the full piece on iHealthBeat

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