Consumers may not like health data sharing, but pharma sure does

Health data sharing with advertisers came under fire after Kinsa smart thermometers passed along de-identified zip code data to Clorox. (Pixabay)

When a recent media report detailed how Clorox used data derived from smart thermometers to send targeted digital ads, consumers and critics were aghast. People were dismayed that personal health data like temperature—in this case, aggregate de-identified information by zip codes—would be used for advertising.

While the outcry around personal data is familiar, it will likely keep on coming, especially when it comes to health data. The New York Times article about Kinsa’s fever data that sparked the backlash characterized health data as “even more personal” than other consumer behavior data collected.

However, connected devices like the Kinsa smart thermometer, pending smart injectors for patients with diabetes, and even Amazon's Alexa can collect data from patients to better communicate with or serve the needs of people around their health. Marketing is one more way to use, and monetize, that data.

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Consumers aren't all convinced. As one commenter on the Kinsa story wrote, echoing others' sentiments, “Everyone who owns a Kinsa thermometer should throw it out. Send a message that you value your privacy. Advertisers, enough is enough.”

Kinsa CEO Inder Singh wrote a blog post in response to the uproar, defending the company’s data practice and pointing to its core mission to locate infectious illness outbreaks and prevent their spread. He called the article headline “click-baity” and objected to the implication Kinsa is doing something “nefarious.” “We’re not,” he said.

Kinsa said it does share data for advertising purposes with other companies, although it did not name any. It also works with pharmacies and cold and cough medicine makers that use its information to stock retail shelves in areas where fevers are spiking.

Many pharma and healthcare companies are already using other types of anonymized data to evaluate patient and physician behaviors, improve adherence, gauge market opportunities and, yes, target digital ads.

Pandora music service, for instance, partnered with data company Crossix to deliver relevant audiences to some 20 big pharma companies that have advertised on the music streamer over the past few years.

“Big data is something brands are going to take advantage of today and will continue to take advantage of forever more. With the thermometer technology, yes, people are up in arms. But they’re up in arms every single time they hear that their data is being used like they’re surprised by this,” Brian Byer, VP of content and commerce practice lead at digital agency Blue Fountain Media, said.

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The additional data sources from connected health devices to pharma marketers are just that. “It’s just one more data source that Big Pharma and medical device companies are going to use to better target and better optimize their marketing,” he said.

Count Kinsa in. A post on the Kinsa Insights blog last year about illness-based marketing concluded, “For any company, organization or agency with a product or service that can help the sick in their moment of need, there is an opportunity at hand. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine knowing where and when people will be coughing vs. vomiting—where strep is spreading vs. flu. Illness data is finally at a level of accuracy, granularity and timeliness where this is all possible for those brands that are ready to use it.”