Apple health: The new age digital colonialism

Mobile ecosystems have now boiled down mostly to a duopoly- Android and iOS. Android portrays itself to be an open source but now increasingly locked down by Google with incremental updates. Apple promotes its iOS operating system- increasingly popular with the physicians and lay people in developed and developing economies.

I am not delving into technical nuances, but perceived benefits of Apple are its flawed privacy stance based on its marketing spin called “differential privacy”. Apple hasn’t shown any inclination towards having any independent advertisement networks, and this division doesn’t get any mention. It gets it’s revenues from superior hardware and locked in services (these revenues are never repatriated back to the country of origin). Apple also has controversial policies concerning foreign workers in China, and the manufactured debate about the privacy (it fought FBI) was frivolous. It did divide the tech community. Interestingly, it’s foray in China is opposite of what it does in the US. It has handed over the encryption keys to Chinese government citing the local laws (paywall).

Personally, I find that their stance on privacy as a PR stunt. When I read or hear about their foray into healthcare, I recoil with horror. My privacy stance will not be enough to oppose them, but I was alerted to a write up in Harvard Business Review, which in my opinion, was a plug for Apple.

I can only surmise that interoperability within the electronic health records is a significant pain point. I know this because, at some point in time, I had been privy to getting one for my department. At the same time, my employer was keen to move towards it. (It did not materialise- but that’s another story). The question about the data portability came in, and it was apparent that it relied on some obscure protocol which didn’t have any open source equivalent. It meant that once the company goes belly up, all data, even if exported out, would only disappear into thin air. Or become useless.

Now you can foresee similar issues with the current tech companies. They would push for their proprietary protocols because big money lies in locking up users in their ecosystems. While the initial enthusiasm is understandable (a familiar user interface to work with like messaging applications) but it’s cheerleaders are ignoring the longer and more sinister implications of this move.

When the authors dream up instances of voice assistants detailing health information, I can only roll up my eyes. Either it is naïveté or stupidity or a mixture of both. These ancilliary companies are circling in anticipation of emerging technology, to feed on spoils from the ecosystem.

Is it suitable for the patients? Let’s examine that.

Healthcare data is most valuable commodity in dark web. Primarily, it has been used to impersonate individuals to gain access to medications (further sold in black markets). More importantly, healthcare data is of paramount importance- patterns of diseases, required interventions etc. should strictly be the purview of the governments and not private companies. None of which can be made accountable. The authors have explicitly mentioned about access to the third party companies where individual users are signing away the rights. The same consumers have been signing off the terms of services for Facebook, for example, and are shocked and horrified if they realise that their data is being used for psychological manipulation. People don’t recognise the importance of “caveat emptor”. Most users are technologically averse with very little understanding of the nuances involved.

Therefore, giving up data to these companies is a bad idea. I also see thought leaders and influencers pushing this line on the social media, but then, they have a lot to gain. I guess, no one reads the financial disclosures or stakes in the companies that stand to benefit from this push.

Healthcare and technology are getting more intertwined and complex. Let the likes of Apple and Amazon be excluded from this.

Or else, this would be the new wave of digital colonialism.

How to use Telegram chat app for academics

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This post is prompted by a discussion I had with a few people on Twitter recently.

Instant messaging applications abound; the most popular amongst them is WhatsApp. It relies on phone numbers to get the work done. By being dead simple, WhatsApp became the most popular application for majority of the users. I believe that it is only a SMS replacement and nothing else. Furthermore, other reason I don’t use it is because its now completely owned by Facebook. The wealth of data related to our social interactions is more important for the company (and thats the reason why its free). Nevertheless, I’ll come straight to the point. How I found Telegram to be better than any chat application and how I use it effectively.

  1. The most important aspect: Bots. They are small nifty software programs that run on the application and automate things. For example, in a group, a Group Butler bot will assist the administrator in welcoming users, make them aware about the rules, limit the media (from pre-arranged rules) and prevent users from flooding. There is a classical music bot that works like Spotify 🙂 The possibilities with bots are endless. Payment bots are maturing on the platform as well.
    bots
  2. Notifications: This is the biggest bane of chat applications and serves to distract us most of the time. As a result, we are hooked to the devices. In Telegram, I have muted all users/groups/channels. The group notifies me only when someone mentions me by my screen name (like Twitter). This indeed is a life saver!
  3. Instant view for articles. It loads up the article (for example from New York Times) inside the app itself. This ensures that I don’t have to jump to the browser.
    instant-view-telegram-updated
  4. Channels serve as a mechanism for one way flow of information. Channel owners can post in media (file limits of 1.5 GB are pretty generous); videos, files, pictures etc but the subscribers cannot comment on it. This avoids the hassles with comment moderation. Channels can have unlimited number of subscribers while groups can accommodate upto 50,000 users (easily managed by bots!) Channels with companion groups can serve as a decent platform for two way communication between users. I manage couple of channels (which are automated) and serve as an admin for several groups without breaking into a sweat.
    Telegram-Channels-List
  5. Last but the not the least. It is a cloud based platform which ensures complete cross platform availability. I can start the conversation on my desktop and continue the same on my mobile device. It can also be accessed via browser. A personal cloud storage comes with it that can store my files indefinitely. Numerous granular privacy controls ensure that I can restrict users from adding me to groups or controlling who can initiate voice calls with me.
    telegram-two-step-verification

Publishers should explore Telegram channels; they can have dedicated systems for payments for premium content (which is invite only link); instant view from the app can ensure filtered information. This app can serve as a distribution hub for media. Bots can be used to link Telegram channel with Twitter, for example. The possibilities, actually are endless! Better still, you get to control access to your busy schedules (Personal chats, except family, groups and channels are all muted).

I really hope academicians and fellow professionals explore this application in right earnestness!