Abstract and Keywords
“Big data,” which encompasses massive amounts of information from both within the health sector (such as electronic health records) and outside the health sector (social media, search queries, cell phone metadata, credit card expenditures), is increasingly envisioned as a rich source to inform public health research and practice. This chapter examines the enormous range of sources, the highly varied nature of these data, and the differing motivations for their collection, which together challenge the public health community in ethically mining and exploiting big data. Ethical challenges revolve around the blurring of three previously clearer boundaries: between personal health data and nonhealth data; between the private and the public sphere in the online world; and, finally, between the powers and responsibilities of state and nonstate actors in relation to big data. Considerations include the implications for privacy, control and sharing of data, fair distribution of benefits and burdens, civic empowerment, accountability, and digital disease detection.
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