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Privacy & Data

There’s No Such Thing as Innocuous Personal Data


It’s 2020, and a couple is on a date. As they sip cocktails and banter, each is dying to sneak a peek at the other’s wearable device to answer a very sensitive question.

What’s his or her heart rate variability?

That’s because heart rate variability, which is the measurement of the time in between heartbeats, can also be an indicator of female sexual dysfunction and male sexual dysfunction.

When you think about which of your devices and apps contain your most sensitive data, you probably think about your text messages, Gchats, or Reddit account. The fitness tracking device you’re sporting right now may not immediately come to mind. After all, what can people really learn about you from your heart rate or your step count?

More than you might think.

Suddenly, anyone who knows your heart rate may prejudge—accurately or not—your emotions, mood, and sexual prowess. “This data can be very easily misinterpreted,” says Michelle De Mooy, the acting director of the Privacy and Data Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “People tend to think of data as fact, when in fact it’s governed by algorithms that are created by humans who have bias.”

Full story here.