Technology, Amazon and the Privacy Challenge in Workers' Comp
There was a time where our lives were our own. We could go about our day without concerns regarding privacy or monitoring. Your thoughts, comments, purchases and more were your domain; or at least the province of those you chose to share them with. There was no “permanent record” of your life, except for the one that was apparently kept by your school in the event you chose to misbehave.
That time Is no more. And that is something for those of us in workers' comp to be aware of.
Today, thanks to technology, our lives now represent a trail of digital information; a path that is leveraged and analyzed, compiled and exploited, mostly for financial and political gain. Literally, nothing is private anymore.
This thought crossed my mind recently when making a purchase from my favorite retail vendor – Amazon and their Prime Membership program. I love Amazon Prime. I can get almost anything dropped on my doorstep - sometimes within hours of ordering it. While others spend days slogging through the mall for their annual Christmas gift obligations, I can sit in my underwear and whizz through my holiday list in under twenty minutes – and Amazon can even suggest things when I can't think of anything. I can order stuff with the single click of a button. Sometimes I don't even need the button. I can simply speak to one of several Alexa devices I own, and crap just magically appears at my door.
Yes, technology and Amazon's brilliant use of it has made my shopping very simple, but does it come at a price?
Many of us have elderly and/or disabled relatives that occasionally need our help. Between my wife's and my extended families, we have a few people that fall into that category. In “old times,” if you needed to buy them specialty items you could simply wander anonymously into a store, lay down some cash and be gone. Now, with the ease of technology our virtual wish is the delivery guys command. The price of that convenience, however, is the sacrifice of a private life.
Most of you know that you only have to search for a product in Google or on Amazon to have versions of it start popping up everywhere you visit online. Even after you've purchased the product, the relentless advertising onslaught continues unabated. Worse, somewhere in the ether, there is a permanent record of everything you've purchased; and one must wonder what kind of a picture that represents.
My own Amazon order history would likely raise an eyebrow for any employee that hacks into that record. I've purchased a wide variety of items, including televisions, electronics, paper towels, coffee, toilet paper, more coffee, books and supplements. I've also purchased a wheelchair, walker, support socks, two trusses and adult diapers. The latter items were not for me, but the picture they draw for anyone looking at that history makes me out to be quite the catch.
And what of those passive listening Alexa's I mentioned earlier? I know several people who refuse to have them in their house, convinced that they are being listened to twenty-four hours a day. Personally, I don't think even Amazon has the resources to have someone sitting around listening to me belch and pass gas every evening (I did mention previously that I sound like a great catch. I must remind my wife how lucky she is). Still, it does seem odd that sometimes we simply talk about a product, and the ads for those items seem to start flowing. Hmmmmm….
Of course, shopping at Amazon isn't the only thing that leaves that pesky digital trail. Simply reading this article likely means you are being tracked by a myriad of sources – only one of which is ours. Google, Facebook and other technology behemoths routinely monitor online behaviors, all under the guise of serving you better. In reality they can better target ads that they believe you will be interested in. If accurately selling you crap is improving your online experience, then so be it.
In the world of workers' compensation, this trend towards ubiquitous monitoring will present ever increasing challenges as more and more of our services meld with online applications. The app or online services created by the TPA or insurance carrier may be subject to this pervasive monitoring, and in a world where we dabble in HIPAA protected topics this will be a challenge.
I can tell you that the workers' comp industry is responding to overt threats created in this new world of cyber security concerns. Vendors big and small, whether deeply embedded in carrier systems or not have all been dealing with an onslaught of security questionnaires and process verifications. That is a good thing, as it signals that the industry is taking its data responsibilities quite seriously. What has been flying under the radar, however, is the more passive undercurrent of oblique surveillance; the risk of information available to an injured worker that is subject to the data gathering tenacities of the world wide web.
Like it or not, our lives used to be stand-alone desktops, but are now part of a much broader network. With that network comes more information at a convenience we never imagined possible. The price of all that convenience, however, is the privacy that we used to enjoy.
PS – since you're shopping there anyway, consider joining the Amazon Smile program. You designate your favorite charitable cause, say like Kids' Chance of Florida, Inc. (hint, hint, hint), and then access and make all your Amazon purchases through http://smile.amazon.com. The charity won't know what you bought, but they will get a small percentage of what you spent.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
Bob has a couple unique personality characteristics. He firmly believes that everyone has the right to his (Bob's) opinion, and while he may not always be right, he is never in doubt. Enter at your own risk, and like all of our blog areas, we encourage you to read the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.
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Bob is an accomplished speaker for the workers' compensation industry. He is available for conferences, corporate events, children's birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs. You may access his Speakers Brief here.