Survey: Majority of Consumers Support Use of Medical IoT, But Security Concerns Remain

The majority of American consumers support the use of medical devices, such as pacemakers or blood sugar sensors, being able to immediately transmit any significant changes in health to a doctor, however, more than half are also extremely or very concerned about the security of medical devices, according to a recent Unisys security survey.

The 2017 Unisys Security Index is a snapshot of security concerns conducted globally and examines changing consumer attitudes in four categories: national security, financial security, internet security and personal security. The survey found divergent views among American consumers relative to the Internet of Things (IoT) phenomenon, in which smart devices, sensors or computer systems connect and exchange information with one another using the internet. The survey found general support for the security and convenience benefits of IoT, but also some wariness about how these applications will use their personal data, who will be able to access it and how it will be used.

The study findings reveal that U.S. consumers’ support for sharing personal data via smart devices varies widely depending on why and by whom the data is collected, how it is to be used and whether the individual can control when and if the data is shared.

“The survey highlights a complex relationship between privacy, security and benefits such as convenience. Ultimately, consumers want control over what, where, when and with whom they share their data via IoT – and the right to decide if the reason for the data to be shared is compelling enough,” the survey report authors wrote.

When it comes to data usage, the Unisys Security Index shows that consumers generally accept use cases in which their personal data may help to increase their personal safety or health or those that promote general convenience. But they are uneasy about sharing personal data via the IoT that is used in relation to money matters such as banking and qualifying for different insurance rates.

The survey found significant support for the use of internet-connected medical devices that can detect health issues and automatically notify care providers of potential emergencies. Seventy-eight percent of consumers support data collected via IoT in the case of medical devices such as pacemakers or blood sugar sensors that immediately transmit any significant changes to their health. However, only about one in three consumers (36 percent) support technology to allow health insurance providers to access fitness tracker data to determine a premium or reward customers for good behavior.

But, the survey found that this enthusiasm was tempered by substantial concerns about privacy and security—especially where issues like financial applications involving banks and personal data involving medical records are concerned.

With regard to health insurance providers tracking fitness activity via wearable monitors, 41 percent of respondents said they don’t want those organizations to have that data about them, and 27 percent said they were concerned about the security of data collected. Twenty-eight percent said there is not a compelling enough reason for them to have this data.

Also, 41 percent of consumers said they don’t want healthcare providers to have health data about them via medical devices while 22 percent said they were concerned about the security of health data collected from medical devices such as pacemakers. Twenty percent of respondents said they just were not comfortable with this data being collected, and 30 percent said there was not a compelling enough reason for healthcare provider organizations to have this data.

The survey indicated that consumers’ reluctance to share their medical data may reflect general concern about maintaining the safety and security of not only personal data, but personal medical devices as well. Asked about their level of concern about someone gaining unauthorized access to an internet-connected medical device such as a defibrillator, pacemaker or insulin pump belonging to them or someone they know, more than half of Americans (51 percent) said they were extremely or very concerned. An additional 27 percent said they were somewhat concerned.

The survey results indicate that public and private sector organizations must takes steps to address these concerns by assuring the privacy and security of personal data that traverses the IoT.