Recently, there has been a significant uproar surrounding many DNA testing companies after some of their data-selling deals began making the news. In the current climate, the blockchain healthcare startup TimiDNA has set itself apart from most of the industry by respecting the privacy of their clients and granting them ownership over their genetic data.
With biotechnology becoming a valuable information technology, DNA data can expose some pretty intimate details of who we are.
For example, DNA tests can predict what level of intelligence a newborn will develop, or if it is probable that they will die because of a heart attack. Genetic tests capable of finding out whether or not you are at risk of developing schizophrenia are also being designed. Most people wouldn’t feel comfortable with such information about them being sold without their knowledge.
Moreover, what has been just described is precisely what is happening. Companies like 23andMe, Ancestry, among others, are profiting by selling the genetic information of their users. A healthcare startup demonstrated how blockchain can solve this issue.
Your Privacy Is Being Compromised by Default
The users of the aforementioned DNA test companies need to take an extra step and explicitly opt-out to prevent their data from being sold.
Sharing — or selling — user data by default, and the fact that most users don’t read the overly complicated and long terms of service are among the reasons why most users are probably unaware that their data is being sold to third parties.
Such systems are legal, but designing a system in a way to have people consent to something without them being necessarily aware of it probably is deemed dishonest by most.
This feeling of dishonesty and wrongness is probably the reason why Joyce Lignell — the chairman of TimiHealth — has said that “there should be regulations against the sale of any health information without the clear understanding and consent from the consumer.”
Further explaining, Lignell has added that “many believe they are sharing data to support nonprofit research because of overly complicated terms of service and unethical default opt-in policies.”
A Privacy Conscious DNA Testing Service
By getting their DNA tested by TimiDNA — which will be possible in the coming weeks — consumers will find themselves in a completely new paradigm.
By securing the DNA data on a blockchain and tokenizing it TimiHealth empowers users with full control — and ownership — over their genetic code. The TimiDNA platform doesn’t just let users decide who can access their data. It also enables them to profit by selling it.
70 percent of the profits made by selling data on the platform goes to the user whose genetic code is being sold, and it doesn’t ever happen without the user’s permission. Will Lowe — the founder of TimiHealth — explained that they “bring the buyers of DNA data to each consumer who then decides on whether or not to sell the data.”
Blockchain Is a Solution to Issues in the Healthcare Industry
However, privacy and data ownership isn’t the only problem in the healthcare industry that smart blockchain application can solve. TimiHealth isn’t a DNA focused company — as its name suggests — its primary focus is on health information exchange.
According to the TimiHealth (or TimiCoin) white paper, the issue with “personal health data is [that it is] not currently used efficiently nor effectively due to fragmented information created and isolated” by and at different sources. What’s more, sharing such data between institutions has been rendered complex also by privacy concerns and fear of giving others a competitive advantage.
DNA data ownership is just part of a bigger picture, the challenge that this startup is undertaking is to create a Health Information Exchange (HIE). If this platform gains mainstream traction, all that has been said of DNA data will be applied to all the medical data.
As Lignell noted,
[…] consumers realize that technology has evolved past centralized systems, where corporations hold all the control, to one like ours where we shift power and control to the consumer, where it should be. I see a time where the consumer drives the price of data and the business model changes as a result.
What are your thoughts on TimiDNA’s platform? Would you sell your DNA information if you knew it was secure?
Images courtesy of Shutterstock.
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