THE BLOG

How Personalised News Can Actually Help Us Live Longer

17/02/2014 13:53 GMT | Updated 18/04/2014 10:59 BST

For someone usually over-enthusiastic to make instinctive judgements, I'm peculiarly undecided about the internet and privacy.

One side of me says, 'Well I've got nothing to hide, what's wrong with people knowing who I am and what I like.' On the other, it's undeniably creepy that strangers - some with very base motives indeed - should have access to my innermost thoughts and desires.

But there is one area which I feel entirely comfortable with opening up to the world, and it strikes me as the perfect example of how digitised knowledge really can improve one's life. And that is health.

One of the highest growth areas in apps is health-related. There are the biggies like WebMD and MapMyFitness and there are other incredibly useful nuggets such as the calorie-tracking My Plate and women-only Period Tracker apps.

Yet many such devices are under attack for apparently sharing data with health and insurance companies, because the information is obviously so valuable. I know my instinctive reaction should be to side with the privacy enthusiasts but I can't help feeling that I might be better off with Big Brother knowing all about my health.

After all, our two driving ambitions in life are to live longer and grow richer (having more sex is a third, I suppose, and a need well-served by the internet) so anything that is going to help me stay alive is of great value. I will leave betting enthusiasts to deliberate over the wealth conundrum.

Anyway, health apps can increase my life-span. In fact health should be one of the internet's great triumphs, and a foundation for personalised news, because it has a constancy that is almost unique.

Here's what I mean. I have high cholesterol, my son was born with a sight problem, my family has a history of Alzheimer's and heart disease, my wife is reluctantly approaching a half century (in many, many years I should add) and has had frequent brushes with carpal tunnel syndrome, my father-in-law is diabetic, my nephew is profoundly deaf, my exercise routine is rubbish and frequently leaves me with tight hamstrings and my daughter is going to spend the next 20-odd years of her life worrying about her weight.

These issues will not change, they are there mostly for life and I - we - are going to need as much help as possible to cope with them. Why would I want all of that information to remain a secret? I want to live longer, I want my extended family to have as fulfilling lives as possible and there are people and organisations out there that can assist in that.

The way I see it, the internet is a perfect tool for enriching our lives in a health-related manner because - and this is crucial - it doesn't have to guess what we want or need. It actually knows it. Amazon guesses that I like certain music, LinkedIn guesses that I'll be interested in a new thought-bubble, LastMinute guesses that I like Tuscany because I went there last year.

The trouble is, my tastes and interests change, especially when it comes to culture, news and leisure. My health concerns, as listed above, will never change. I will always have them, my interest in them will never cease.

Will my insurance company penalise me for knowing my grandmother died not knowing who I was? Will it hike my payments because my cholesterol test was a couple of tiny numbers above the recommended amount? Will my children's employment prospects be harmed because of their personal health issues (well my son, thankfully, will never be a fighter pilot much to his continued annoyance)?

The answer to all of those conundrums could, I suppose, be yes but it's more likely that the more those 'afflictions' are known about, then the more knowledge, advice and solutions will be sent to me directly. Every day, I could be sent tailor-made advice - intricately tailor-made - that might add years to my life.

The less privacy I attach to my health, the greater my chances of living longer. And the more health-positive messages I receive, perhaps the greater chance of me becoming a healthier person and thus less of a liability to insurers.

Personalisation is the internet's greatest ambition. Health, it seems to me, could be that aim's most successful application.