Want $50 off your next purchase at Walgreens? You’ll have to run 2,000 miles. Or step on a scale 2,000 times. Or take 2,000 readings of your blood glucose level.
And you’ll have to let the global pharmacy chain track all that data — and give them permission to mine it to target you with ads.
Walgreens this month launched a new smartphone app that customers can sync up wirelessly with their blood glucose and blood pressure monitors so they can feed their personal health information directly into the chain’s data system in exchange for discounts. The app is novel. But the practice is increasingly familiar.
Michelle De Mooy, a consumer privacy advocate at the Center for Democracy & Technology, worries that these programs have the potential to be discriminatory in their impact. Low-income customers may not be able to afford to say no to a discount, even at the cost of personal data they would otherwise keep private, she said.
“It’s becoming less and less possible to truly de-identify data, especially when it’s at such a detailed personal level,” she said. “When you’re talking about really specific biometric information like your blood pressure or other metrics like that, the bar needs to be raised very high” in terms of data privacy, security, and transparency, she said.