University of Houston Law Center
Health Law & Policy Institute
4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
On October 23, 2020, The Health Law & Policy Institute (HLPI) hosted the 8th annual Health Law Symposium Workshop. The event, entitled “Defining Health Data,” explored the impact of wellness apps, wearables, and other digital technologies on our current, limited understanding of health data. In looking at the long-term effects of machine learning, social determinants of health, and the quantified-self movement, the workshop posed a provocative question: have all data become health data?
Michael Mattioli, professor of law at the University of Indiana Maurer School of Law, considered health data from the perspective of mental health apps. Professor Mattioli built on his prior empirical work to consider the long-term impacts of recent Food and Drug Administration enforcement decisions for wellness app marketing in the pandemic.
Though data about mental illness feels distinctly like health data—even if not regulated as such in the context of most wellness apps—information about a user’s location poses a more challenging question. Anya Prince, an associate professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, asked if location data could be health data, depending on the types of conclusions drawn from one’s whereabouts and the discrimination one could face based on those conclusions.
Daniel Schwarcz of the University of Minnesota Law School took the issue of discrimination a step further. Drawing inspiration from his prior work with Professor Prince, he considered health-based proxy discrimination through machine learning and four strategies to restrict discrimination based on traits directly linked to health status.
Charlotte Tschider, an assistant professor of law at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, wrestled with similar issues in her piece about artificial intelligence and the intersection of data use interests and privacy interests.
The four authors’ pieces, alone and in conversation with each other, are important scholarly contributions to the emerging issue of data privacy in an increasingly technology-driven world. The Houston Journal of Health Law & Policy will publish their work in a forthcoming volume.