How blockchain could prevent future data breaches

April 29, 2020

Just before the new year, approximately 15 million Canadians — about 40 percent of the entire population of Canada — learned that their sensitive personal data, collected by one of Canada’s major lab diagnostic and testing services, had been breached.

The data included name, address, email, login, passwords, date of birth, health card number, and lab test results. This event would be distressing enough, but it came on the heel of reports that, over a nine-month period in 2019, 19 million Canadians had already had their data breached.

Consumers’ burden

Unfortunately, it appears that there is not many individual consumers can do to protect themselves. The only way that consumers can protect themselves is to use strong passwords and authentication, regularly check credit card statements, credit applications and histories, insurance claims, and the like. This passes a large portion of the burden onto individual consumers.

Recent revelations about how platforms like Facebook and 23andMe use individuals’ sensitive personal data validates concerns that data may be shared with third parties without informed consent, adding to consumer concerns about data theft.

Reluctance to share health data

This growing reluctance to share health data is worrisome, as it will hold back research advancements in personalized and precision healthcare which rely upon access to large bodies of data for analysis.

Faced with the threat of ongoing data breaches and unauthorized secondary use of their data, some Canadians seem willing to try novel solutions, such as blockchain technology, to address the issue.

In recent focus groups run by my research team working within the University of British Columbia’s blockchain research cluster, Blockchain@UBC, consumers expressed their willingness to give blockchain a try. As one focus group participant put it: “ … someone has to start, right? There would befall and all that and there would be corrections, I’m willing to be on the beta.”


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