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Researchers Hope To Unlock Personal Health-Tracking Data

Researchers Hope To Unlock Personal Health-Tracking Data
California researchers are hoping to unlock all the personal data stored away in health-tracking devices.

Whether it's a Fitbit strapped around the wrist to monitor sleep or a smartphone app that maps jogging, health-tracking devices have produced piles of data about individuals' wellbeing. With a new grant, California researchers hope to unlock all the personal data compiled by these devices.

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"Personal data being generated about us is becoming quite pervasive," UC Irvine's Matthew Bietz said.

But since private companies and their customers control all that data, right now it's locked away from the researchers who want to discover what it can tell us about populationwide health.

This week, Bietz and his Health Data Exploration Project colleagues at UC San Diego received a $1.9 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They'll spend it trying to figure out ways for health-tracking companies, their consumers and researchers to come together and share this data.

Bietz says respecting the privacy of individuals who track their own health will be crucial. But he believes there's a way to balance public health research with the interests of private consumers. Ultimately, he says, "what we're doing is we're paving the way for a new kind of research that could be done with this new kind of data."

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