The Emerging Data Gold Rush

In 1848, a small deposit of gold was discovered in California’s American River. While some wanted to keep news of California’s gold a secret, it was impossible to prevent rumors from spreading about its newfound wealth. Local merchant Samuel Brannan is credited with igniting the California Gold Rush when he strode through San Francisco holding a vial of gold and shouting: “Gold! Gold! From the American River!” 

The Gold Rush had a significant impact on the world’s economy, and sparked San Francisco’s transformation from a small town of nearly 200 residents in 1846 to a city of more than 30,000 people in 1852. Over time, San Francisco has been the site of a number of additional booms, such as the technology revolution that accompanied the rise of the personal computer. 

San Francisco is currently one of the epicenters of another world-changing trend: the emerging health data gold rush. A range of companies, government agencies and other groups from around the world are taking advantage of our ability to collect, store and analyze massive amounts of data about how the human body is performing and people’s health activities. Just like gold in the mid-1800s, data will be the resource that fuels a range of trends that have the potential to change health and well-being forever. Following are two examples of how data is influencing and transforming health. 

23andMe: Promoting Personal DNA Testing in a Quest to Amass a Treasure Trove of Genetic Data 

Late last year, the personal genetic testing company 23andMe got into a bit of trouble with the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA sent 23andMe a warning letter requesting that the company stop marketing its genetic testing kits due to concerns they may mislead consumers or provide inaccurate results about people’s risk for disease. Because of this, some suggested the FDA’s letter was a sign the personal genetic testing era had ended before it began. 

Today, 23andMe is alive and well. It responded to the FDA’s letter by changing the way it delivered genetic testing information (i.e., removing health data interpretation from its product). More importantly, the company is still selling DNA testing kits for $99 to the public and collecting genetic data from potentially thousands of people. 

23andMe is unlikely to generate significant revenues by selling personal genetic tests to the public for $99. Instead, it is amassing a resource that is much more valuable: raw genetic data. The company can sell its DNA data to governments, pharmaceutical companies, universities and other groups seeking to develop medications and more. As long as 23andMe is not prohibited from collecting genetic data from the public, its future as a genetic data broker is assured. 

Using Mobile Data to Deliver Hyper-Local and Personalized Health Marketing Messages 

Our mobile devices continuously transmit a range of data about where we live, work and play. Now, a small group of companies is starting to collect and mine location data generated by mobiles and deliver a range of research and marketing services. For example, Turnstyle has deployed sensors that use Wi-Fi data to, according to the Wall Street Journal, “build profiles of consumers’ lifestyles.” 

This data could easily be used for health purposes; for example, to track whether people seek a flu vaccination or medication after being exposed to health marketing messages. If people do not take steps to prevent or treat the flu post-content exposure, they could receive additional messages about why it is important to get vaccinated or treat the flu early and aggressively. 

As I described in a previous Marketing:Health article, this type of personalized and relevant “just-in-time health information” could change the way drug firms, governments and others communicate with and market to the public. 

There are many more ways that the health data gold rush is unfolding in the United States and around the world. If you’d like to learn more, consider joining the our LinkedIn community, “Humans, Health and Technology,” where health data is discussed regularly. Click here to get started.

2 comments about "The Emerging Data Gold Rush".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, January 17, 2014 at 10:19 a.m.

    Let me share a personal story about the downside of this reliance on data: I have a pair of stereo speakers I posted for sale on Craig's List the other day. In the process, I went online to see what others were asking for the same speakers. I can only assume the intermediary targeting technology interpreted my actions as an intent to purchase, because now everywhere I go I get served ads to buy the very speakers I'm trying to sell!

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 17, 2014 at 5:22 p.m.

    We all should be scared, very scared of these control devises. Do you know who controls 23andme ? What they can do with it and what they will be able to do with it ? Which giant international corporation is going to buy 23andme ? and/or develop its own? control the medications and the pricing of those medications including the ingredients to make them ? Will it be the same giants owned/co-owned who controls the distribution ? deals with insurance companies ? How inconsequential is life and cheaply we view it. Are you worth $.28/hr ? less ?

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