Very public health

Jeff Jarvis on the trend toward being less secretive in public about our personal health: "Rather than reflexively declaring that sharing information about ourselves -- our bodies as well as our thoughts and actions -- is dangerous, we must stand back and ask what benefit could come from such data..."

Awareness is key to making good decisions about privacy. It's a bad thing when a social network promises privacy, then bamboozles us into revealing ourselves. But it's a good thing when we choose to reveal something about ourselves, fully aware of what that means, because it helps other people.


  1. It’s all about personal circumstances. Someone self-employed publicizing their battle with cancer? No big; could even do good. Someone employed by a major corporation with a history of ditching problem employees? Definitely keep that illness between you and your insurance. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to privacy. 

    1. I was caught in that difficult situation of being in a small company where I’m on a first-name basis with the CEO.  Thankfully he isn’t the sort to fire people, especially in this economy.

      1. I was caught in that difficult situation of being in a small company where I’m on a first-name basis with the CEO.

        I worked in a hospital and was a patient on my own floor.

  2. Openness is fine for some, but there are too many employers in the US who will kick you to the curb at the first sign of a serious illness. Some of them will fire a woman who mentions she wants to have a baby. 

    The self-employed or the retired have less to fear from being open with their health issues than those of us relying on a paycheck. 

    1. Some won’t even wait for you to declare yourself. I was talking with the office manager at a medium-large construction company, and she said they don’t like to hire people older than 50, because they make their health insurance too expensive.

  3. ++ Literatewench

    I felt exactly the same way when I saw the BoingBlurb. There is a vast amount of good that can be done with broad availability of personal data. Vast statistical sets of accurate data make any kind of research involving people and behavior more accurate, pertinent and provide unprecedented insight into the human condition.

    Unfortunately there is a vast amount of harm that can be done with that data. The individual is not anonymous in that sea of data, with just a few connections, individuals can reliably be sorted out of that sea and become specific targets of specific action. Employers, insurers and policy makers can make devastating and arbitrary choices about people as a result of exactly the kind of research that would be advanced by that data.

    These institutions are engaged in providing a good or service but profit based on providing as little, or the lowest quality as possible (insurers profit most from not paying insurance benefits than paying them, employers profit most from paying the least for employees wages and benefits), Using statistics to make these decisions makes good market sense to these institutions; a former cancer patient is more likely to get cancer again than someone who has not. Insurers would much rather not face the liabilities of those folks who are likely to get sick (especially a sickness as devastating, costly and arbitrary as cancer).

    Aside from a sudden change of course in our culture embracing altruism and abandoning profit as its major motivation I see little hope for anonymity. Every little bit of data revealed about ourselves is another wedge that can be driven against us.

  4. Exposing the info to some or all of those who have a legitimate need doesn’t/shouldn’t require exposing it to the world.

    But as others have said, the concern will remain until we have a true health care system rather than a health insurance system.

  5. Is this confusing a changing confirmation bias with a changing general trend?

    This sounds great if you’re older because your circle of friends are also falling apart, or you’re married and thereby not concerned about scaring away suitors.
    Does anyone know if publicizing health problems run you into trouble with health insurance coverage?

  6. Sometimes it’s good to talk about things, whether for personal catharsis or for public education.

    Think about the old days when the term, “Shameful condition” existed.

  7. Just do it anonymously.  Why do people need to know who you really are to give good advice?  Should you feel ashamed of your aliments?  No.  Also, I really don’t need to hear what’s wrong with your bowels just because we’re in the same elevator and you feel conversational.

    Actually, I think there’s something to be said for hiding what’s wrong.  It’s good for character. It might better prepare you when something worse happens to you.  Also, no one likes a complainer.

    Sure, there’s benefit in crowdsourcing to find resolution to your problems.  Just do it anonymously.

  8. An important thing about sharing traditionally private information is being able to track/identify all instances at which it is accessed. A lot of business and government abuse of our information stems from the fact that right now we have no way of knowing when they look at it, and why.

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