Protecting Data Between Services

I saw an announcement this week that Microsoft is shutting down their HealthVault service, where someone might have chosen to store their medical records in a way that it could be shared with health professionals, but an individual could maintain control of the records. They could share them out to friends, download them, etc. It was a good idea, and I was interested in it for the future. Since I have been fortunate to mostly avoid doctors and hospitals, I never signed up, but I still could sign up as of this week.

Google used to have a similar product, but shut it down a few years ago. I suspect that this commercial space just isn’t as lucrative and valuable as either company thought, as I don’t really see any competitors out there that might allow a user to transfer their records. While I don’t know that there needs to be a service for this, I did think of the hassles and potential issues that might exist if there were. Imagine your mother or grandmother keeping their health records here for the last decade and now needing to download them and manage them before they could be used again. What if someone downloaded these to a PC and had a hard drive failure?

Backups are needed, we know that, and I’d hope most consumers know that, but in a rush or in the worry that these need to be copied, but securely, would you want to keep this data on a tablet or PC? Or would you want an encrypted drive. If that’s the case, would you want to ensure you have 2 (or more) of them? Easy to plan this out, hard to think about if you get a notice about the service shutting down. Imagine that your spam filter knocks this down or you’re inundated and miss it and get a final notice on Sept 1 or Oct 1? A real hassle.

The higher level view of this in my eyes is that we need better data formats for capturing and keeping lots of our data in systems. Those of us that are impacted by the GDPR (or similar laws) might be thinking about this already, as we have a need to provide data in response to requests. Providing a report, and packaging this up, is no small task. I assume I’d use a .zip file, but maybe a .nuget with a manifest is actually a better idea for customers.

As the use of services grows, I expect that we will want to get more portability for data over time. Certainly vendors that provide services have an incentive for tooling. WordPress has import/export for other blog services, Microsoft will help you move data from Oracle (as will Oracle in the other direction), and there are specialized vendors in niche applications doing the same, but really I’d like to see us have more open, and extensible, data formats that relate to the types of data in our lives. I know we’ll have more disparate types of data, in various formats, so why not an easy way for each of us to store text, images, and more as a service that contains some metadata, some indexing. Something like a personal data lake of sorts.

We could have other services, like image services, visualization services for numbers, and more be authorized (or de-authorized) for our data. Imagine a way for us to allow a company to hold our data, but we disperse that to other vendors as needed for services. I could easily imagine various “storage” vendors competing and allowing us to “port” our data to a new service as easily as we port phone numbers for mobile phones. Perhaps a whole new era of data storage and management is coming.

Or maybe we’ll just stick with the current separated, proprietary, limited view of data that we manage on hard drives and USB sticks. It’s more likely, but much less preferable in my mind.

Steve Jones

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