In big data era, how is your health data protected and used for research?

'Science on Tap' event to be held Oct. 16

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Sharing of data has quickly become the most valuable "currency" in the era of big data, artificial intelligence (AI), wearables and cyber-attacks. Companies are collecting, monitoring and using data for everything from providing personalized shopping lists to highly personalized medical care. Individuals are collecting data on FitBits, Apple Watches, and other wearable data-collection devices. The promise of such data is perceived as nearly infinite. However, the cost of a health data breach is high.

How can organizations better navigate the health data conversation and partner with all stakeholders to provide better prevention, diagnosis and treatment for everyone to benefit from without risking users' privacy? As we demand more from healthcare organizations and our providers, how can we collectively move towards better understanding and transparency of who owns what and how is it being used? 

These are some of the important questions surrounding data use and privacy that will be discussed with Penn State researchers Vasant Honavar, Timothy Brick and Ariana Winder at this month’s Science on Tap event, which will take place at 7 p.m. on Oct. 16 at Federal Tap House in downtown State College.

Honavar is a professor and chair in the college of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) and serves as director of the Penn State Center for Big Data Analytics and Discovery Informatics. Prior to joining Penn State in 2013, he served as program director and led the Big Data Program at the National Science Foundation. He is internationally recognized for his work in AI, machine learning, data mining, health and security informatics, as well as others. His research tackles important practical problems in society that are of priority, such as big data and building predictive models.

Brick, a professor of human development and family studies, said that his work often utilizes wearables to conduct research.

“My research uses modern technology like wearable physiology monitors, smartphones and computer vision tools to try to help people in challenging contexts, like addiction recovery," Brick said. "So, we might use heart rate from your Apple Watch along with monitoring your phone use and asking you periodic questions to detect when you’re having intense cravings.”

Winder is a certified clinical research professional with experience in basic, clinical and translational research. She has developed, conducted and managed research efforts ranging from observational studies using existing data to a system-wide genomic biobanking initiative. She also has a personal connection with health data, from helping navigate parents through three cancer diagnoses and her own journey with multiple sclerosis. She hopes to provide a perspective that bridges the gap between the patient and researchers in an approachable way.

This event is part of the monthly Science on Tap series, which is designed to allow informal discussions between leading Penn State researchers and members of the public. 

Science on Tap is presented by the Science Policy Society and the NIH-funded Clinical and Translational Science Institute. The Science Policy Society is a graduate student-run organization that aims to teach researchers about the connection between their research and public policy. The Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Penn State serves to help translate and apply new research findings to help benefit human health.

For more information, visit the society’s website at:

Last Updated October 15, 2018