Skip to Main Content

Advertisers get the hots for fever data

Autumn is in the air and so are the sniffles, fevers — and the data on those illnesses. Good thing that some smart devices are willing to help out with public health issues by putting their user data into the service of targeted advertisements.

Kinsa is doing just that. Their smart thermometers do more than just take a child’s temperature. They take the temperature, time stamp it, and with the handy app – let parents chart the flow of the illness and the medication given. These smart thermometers are reportedly in more than a half million households in the United States.

In addition, the company is taking this data, scrubbing out the personal data, and then selling it. Information on increased numbers of hot-headed children divided by zip code is valuable stuff. Just think of what else happens when kids have fevers: There is potentially an increase in consumption of paper tissues, chicken soup, and … disinfecting wipes.

Data cleanup for Clorox

Clorox bought this info from the data arm of Kinsa and used it to distribute targeted ads for its disinfecting wipes. It was effective, too. As reported by the NYTimes, this helped increase consumer interactions with the ads by 22% during the last flu season. Of course, there really is a preventive health angle to this data sale. The Center for Disease Control does recommend disinfecting surfaces to prevent the spread of illnesses like the flu. And, the data sale precisely matches the Kinsa mission statement of helping “to track, and ultimately curb the spread of illness.”

Better data than Google

The Kinsa approach is the next logical step from Google Trend’s tracking of flu-related search terms. With this, Google showed it was able to uncover public health trends faster than traditional methods. Kinsa has taken this a step forward by uncovering real instances and packaging this data into an advertiser friendly context.

Too hip with HIPAA

For data privacy, Kinsa is probably doing a far better job of anonymizing user data than the average smart device – and there is a reason for that.  It’s a much bigger deal if Kinsa leaks or misuses user data than your average exercise app. Kinsa products likely fall under the American Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (better known as HIPAA), which mandates greater control in the handling and use of patient data.

But there are potential minefields waiting for Kinsa, pointed out Andrei Petrus, head of the IoT Labs at Avira. “Even when this regulation is enforced, like with hospital-grade connected equipment controlled by the FDA, it’s hard to control the full chain of data privacy: data collection, data-in-motion and data-at-rest.”

Hot for the future

Like it or not, Kinsa is showing the best-case scenario for targeted ads in your future. They provide a useful smart product, package it with a user-friendly app, and carefully scrape off some data for select product advertisements. The question is when this is not done so carefully: when the data is not sufficiently cleaned up, when this is linked to other data that strips away your privacy, and when the advertisements are highly invasive. And what about that location data?

“I bet everyone understands the logical necessity to share their location with a map app to get around in the city,” added Petrus. “You just might want to think twice before letting your favorite game – or thermometer – know your whereabouts.”


This post is also available in: FrenchItalian

As a PR Consultant and journalist, Frink has covered IT security issues for a number of security software firms, as well as provided reviews and insight on the beer and automotive industries (but usually not at the same time). Otherwise, he’s known for making a great bowl of popcorn and extraordinary messes in a kitchen.