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Future Thinking

Are there benefits to giving up our privacy?

In a digital world, our every move can be tracked, collected and analysed. Many see this as an invasion of privacy, but Microsoft’s Eric Horvitz argues that it may also offer unexpected benefits – by helping to predict people’s current and future health issues.

Like it or not, many of us are part of a giant exercise in big data collection. Every time we search or engage in social media we are sending out information about ourselves into the public domain, and as recent events have shown, this has raised significant privacy concerns.

But Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research Lab, points out that tech innovations that we now take for granted often raised these concerns too. From the advent of flash photography to the early use of telephones, these advances raised fears that our lives had been invaded by outside technology.

Data collection doesn’t have to be a bad thing, argues Horvitz.

He suggests there is a lot to be gained from our online activity, especially in the realm of public health. For instance, streams of data from patients’ internet searches could be put to good use – it could help to reveal signals for possible drug side effects or other health concerns.

Eric Horvitz spoke to BBC Future at The Atlantic Meets The Pacific conference.

Additional footage courtesy: Microsoft Research and Shutterstock. 

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