Online Age Verification for Children Brings Privacy Worries

WHEN it comes to protecting children on the Internet and keeping them safe from predators, law enforcement officials have vocally advocated one approach in particular. They want popular sites, like the social network MySpace, to confirm the identities and ages of minors and then allow the young Web surfers to talk only with other children, or with adults approved by parents.
But performing so-called age verification for children is fraught with challenges. The kinds of publicly available data that Web companies use to confirm the identities of adults, like their credit card or Social Security numbers, are either not available for minors or are restricted by federal privacy laws.
Nevertheless, over the last year, at least two dozen companies have sprung up with systems they claim will solve the problem. Surprisingly, their work is proving controversial and even downright unpopular among the very people who spend their days worrying about the well-being of children on the Web.

Is There a Privacy Risk in Google Flu Trends?

When Google released its Flu Trends service earlier this week, the Drudge Report flashed a headline that read: “SICK SURVEILLANCE: GOOGLE REPORTS FLU SEARCHES, LOCATIONS TO FEDS.”

Google sought to avoid this kind of reaction by talking about how Google Flu Trends protects the privacy of its users. The service relies “on anonymized, aggregated counts of how often certain search queries occur each week,” Google said.

Still, the worries persist. On Wednesday, two advocacy groups, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Patient Privacy Rights, sent a letter to Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, raising privacy concerns: “The question is how to ensure that Google Flu Trends and similar techniques will only produce aggregate data and will not open the door to user-specific investigations, which could be compelled, even over Google’s objection, by court order or Presidential authority.” The letter went on to challenge Google to publish the techniques it has adopted to protect the privacy of search queries used for Flu Trends.

There is no doubt that there are longstanding and legitimate privacy concerns about the collection and storage of search data by companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. They all retain logs of the searches conducted by millions of people for varying periods of time. The logs include the search terms used in a query, the I.P. address of the computer that sent the query and a cookie associated with that computer. Those search logs could be misused by the companies, and they certainly can be subpoenaed by the government or sought by private litigants in civil lawsuits. More than two years ago, The New York Times showed how the data could be used to identify the individuals behind certain queries, at least before the data is partially “anonymized.”

Will Technology Cure Health Care — Or Kill It?

Advances in Technology create dilemmas.
Obama says technology will save health care, and it’s true that IT is quickly becoming a medical resource: Google, which recently launched an online medical records service, claims that online search is where consumers turn first for health information. Computerization can eliminate much of the 30 percent of medical costs that are due to inefficiency, according to Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute. And advanced diagnostics will encourage prevention and reduce costly reactive treatment.
Two weeks ago, a small green box showed up in my mail. Inside was a “spit kit” my wife had ordered me from DNA sequencing startup 23andme. Within a few minutes, I’d completed and returned the sample. In a few weeks, I’ll be able to analyze my DNA online. What if I find something I don’t like?
Thanks to technology, such diagnostics are now within the reach of consumers. As more people test themselves, doctors and insurers may face the additional burden of just-in-case surgery and a “previvor” mentality. So, will technology cure health care, or kill it?

Biden Versus Palin: The Tech Debate

Vice presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will face off in their first and only debate Thursday, most likely touching upon the teetering economy, the war in Iraq, and the issues of experience and leadership.

The debate will probably bypass technology issues. But assuming it doesn’t, what type of expertise does each bring to the table?

Biden, a Democrat and senator from Delaware since 1972, chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs. Palin, a Republican, served as the mayor of her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska and took office as Alaska’s governor in late 2006.

Outsourcing aids many data thefts, Verizon says

IT outsourcing eases organized crime’s theft of credit-card data from chains, Verizon says
NEW YORK (Associated Press) – The reliance of restaurant chains and retail stores on outside companies to handle credit-card processing and other information-technology functions is partly to blame for a rash of consumer data breaches over the last few years, according to data sleuths at Verizon Communications Inc.
Even a chain with thousands of restaurants might have only 100 employees in information technology, so it uses outside vendors for many IT functions, said Bryan Sartin, director of the investigative response team at Verizon Business.

Stacking Up Biden and Palin on Tech

Political experts don’t expect tonight’s debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin to hit on a lot of technology too much. But that didn’t stop PC Magazine from breaking down their respective technology record and positions. The magazine gives the techno nod to Biden, but that’s because “with 30 years of experience in the Senate, Biden has obviously had the opportunity to touch on more technology issues than Palin.” That would include working on children’s Internet safety, combating Web predators, and piracy and copyright issues.

For Palin, the magazine reports “her experience appears to be limited to evaluating tech-related projects included in the state budget, and vetoing or approving tech-related bills.” She has signed laws that feature some tech, “but her most notable contribution might be the numerous vetoes this year for school technology projects.”

The analysis on Palin is almost 180 degrees different from what the federal research firm INPUT found when analysts there looked into Palin’s technology record. But then again, INPUT looked through the government operations prism when it considered technology and PC Magazine analyzed technology policy.

Sarah Palin’s IT Record

With so much attention focused on Republican vice president nominee Sarah Palin’s record, market research firm INPUT took the time to examine Palin’s performance on IT issues as governor of Alaska. From INPUT’s blog, B2G Exchange: While the nature of Gov. Sarah Palin’s, R-AK, “executive” experience will be the subject of much debate during the closing months of the presidential campaign, there is no doubt that she is the only person on a ticket who has signed budgets with state and local IT line items. As would be expected, she has employed IT pragmatically in service of her larger policy agenda.

Chris Dixon, manager for state and local industry analysis, said Palin’s record on IT was on par with other governors nationwide and gave her kudos for elevating the position of chief information officer during her tenure.

“Looking at the CIO, it’s been a significant upgrade to the stature of the position,” Dixon said. “[Alaska has a] CIO who can hold his own with anyone in the nation in terms of credentials.”

The CIO in question is Anand Dubey, who was appointed director of enterprise technology services division for the State of Alaska in October 2007. Dubey manages a staff of 125 and is responsible for all of the network infrastructure and information technology services in Alaska. Before becoming CIO, he spent three years with the Alaska Railroad and also worked for British Petroleum.

Take Two Hackers and VoIP me in the Morning

With over 10,000 magazines published in the US, I rarely have time to read all of them. But I do make an effort to set aside a few hundred hours each week to read as many of them as I can.
Reading the current 2008/2009 Physicians Practice Annual Tech Guide provided a good helping of security food for thought.  As a former physician, I occasionally like to check on the lack of technological progress in the healthcare industry.  However, after reading this publication, I was pleased to find that both the Internet, and the digital storage of information, have been discovered and incorporated into the doctor’s office.  Unfortunately, the concept of information security has yet to be understood by our community of clinicians.

FDA to develop electronic information system. EIS will be used to improve medical-product safety.

The Food and Drug Administration is developing a new electronic information system to monitor how drugs and other medical products perform once they go on the market.

Called the Sentinel System, the data-mining technology will enable the agency to gather information about medical products by querying electronic health records, patient registry data, insurance claims data, and other large health care information databases. The project is in conjunction with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and is intended to improve patient safety and medical care.

Selling the bitter EMR pill (HIMSS meeting)

A few days after the University of California Medical Center in Irvine went live with its new electronic medical record system, a letter arrived on the desk of the hospital administrator.

“I think the person who chose the [EMR] system should be shot first and then fired,” the note read. Pamela Griffith, RN, director of applications for the UC Medical Center, displayed the note at the annual conference of the Health Information and Management Systems Society in Orlando, Fla., in late February, where a lot of discussion focused on how to get physicians to use technology.