Mobile Biometrics Could Revolutionize Epidemiology

MultimodalA biometrics researcher believes that the biometric technology available in smartphones could revolutionize epidemiology, according to a Mashable article by Karissa Bell. The prediction came from Dr. Leslie Saxon, founder of the Center for Body Computing at USC, who was part of a panel discussion on wearable technology at this year’s SXSW cultural festival.

Essentially, Dr. Saxon’s argument is that the advanced biometric sensor capabilities that are now becoming prevalent on smartphones could provide real-time health data to monitoring bodies and researchers. “Imagine if you’re checking your phone 150 times a day — which is the average — what if sometimes you’re getting a facial scan that measures your blood pressure, your heart rate, something else and you’re collecting this massive biometric cloud in the sky while you’re just opening stuff,” she said, concluding that it wouldn’t be difficult to “scale that really globally.” Researchers and monitors who are able to access that data would theoretically be able to draw a real-time picture of a disease outbreak or other such epidemic on a vast scale.

Of course, Dr. Saxon did acknowledge problems with respect to privacy concerns, and suggested as a solution the creation of a “U.N. for biometrics and security.” It’s a bold idea, but, while the technology already exists to a great extent, we could be a ways away from such a regulatory reality. The infringement of biometrics on privacy is only beginning to be tested in countries like the United States, while the general proliferation of personal data from an increasingly connected Internet of Things is causing even bigger headaches for legislators. Still, the biometric technology in smartphones is driving a kind of revolution in remote healthcare, and it seems almost inevitable that trend will eventually encompass epidemiology and other macro-scale health concerns.