The Internet of Things needs a healthier data diet

Nick Booth Nick Booth

It’s not nice to see our information getting spewed all over the place!

Some of the more ambitious projects mooted for the M2M industry are aimed at improving public health.

By now you will be familiar with the arguments for wearable technology. Allowing the medical profession to monitor everything – from blood sugar to beats per minute – via the conduit of some measuring gadget plugged into your Nokia, would help us all live longer, healthier lives. That was the logic.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Nokia? That blokes really showing his age, isn’t he?

If you look closer, however, there are more imperfections in this picture. How many GPs do you know who will be delighted with the extra work involved in handling all your big data? Many GPs use answering systems to build a wall between their practice and the patients.

Pretty soon there will be a wearable backlash. We are about to enter what Gartner analysts have dubbed “the trough of disillusionment” in the technology hype cycle that all inventions must go through. One of the principal problems that needs to be overcome is that – unless you’re a complete poser – wearable tech is counterproductive in any fitness programme. Unless the objective is a public display of your gadget freakerie, these systems are a pain. You spend more time configuring devices and collecting data than you’ll ever devote to quickening your pulse or firing up your ganglions.

These might be teething problems that the M2M industry will obviate through creative design.

However, once they have succeeded, I fear there will be a much bigger challenge involved with the data.

For example, one of the more powerful forms of preventative medicine is to promote Oral health. Studies over the years have indicated that bad dental hygiene can lead to everything from heart disease to immune system deficiencies. A BBC documentary, The Truth About Your Teeth, which quotes the latest findings from the University of Birmingham’s School of Dentistry and Kings College London, will surely stimulate the public appetite for M2M-led health applications.

Ever the trend setter, Gilli Coston, EMEA MD of IoT pioneer Wyless, has identified how the connected toothbrush and data analytics could improve our health and well being.

Coston describes a theoretical app which she has dubbed The Toothbrush Police, which gathers data on who has been brushing their teeth properly and how often. By comparing the health of Birmingham and Barcelona or Manchester and Madrid for example, we could all be ‘plaque shamed’ into taking better care of ourselves.

“In the Seventies my mum often threatened me with the toothbrush police,” says Coston, “If you think about the cost of bad dental health on the NHS it could have some excellent impacts.” Sounds good, so far.

In theory, big data analytics platforms created by the big vendors like Boots, Colgate and Oral B could create a fount of knowledge that could be shared with your dentist. “It could transform dental health and reduce NHS costs and increase income in the long term to the dental industry and toothbrush,” says Coston.

Logically, this sounds quite sensible. Currently people pay anything from 50p – £250 for a toothbrush. At the medium to high end you can connect a toothbrush to WiFi and your teeth could even have their own Facebook page, says Coston.

Ah. That’s where we disagree. It’s at the mention of Facebook that my own heart begins to sink and my morale experiences a downturn.  Suddenly, all the ghosts of intrusions past have come back to haunt me. Facebook is bad enough, but at least people voluntarily signed up for that. The behaviour of public sector bodies, like the agencies that look after our driving licence information and police records, has been a much bigger breach of trust.

Personally, I feel sorry for anyone who voluntarily tags themselves and allows any personal information about health and whereabouts to fall into the public domain. Having said that, we cynics are missing out on considerable benefits that companies like Wyless could deliver.

The first big challenge for the M2M industry is to regain the public’s trust in the sovereignty of their data as it takes its place in the Internet of Things. I hope they do, because I’d like to have faith in the Tooth Police. Even if they seem to be getting younger.

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