UC Berkeley adopts blockchain to protect personal health data
June 20, 2017
The University of California Berkeley School of Public Health is using blockchain technology from Taiwanese company Bitmark to give data donors more transparency and rights with their personal data.
The aim is to encourage individuals to donate their personal data to advance public health. Bitmark will fund research fellows to conduct studies using its blockchain technology. The security of the system should ensure that participants will know exactly how and where their data are being used while giving researchers the tools to verify provenance and consent.
Bitmark creates simple tools that allow anyone to assert ownership over their digital lives and share data. The system works by structuring and converting personal data into digital property by issuing property titles, or bitmarks. Each bitmark serves as a permanent record of the ownership history for its property by recording each transfer of ownership in the firm’s open-source blockchain.
This ownership history safeguards the authenticity of the data and its access of digital property. Researchers publicly link their identities to their accounts so donors can trust them. Transparency and accountability are extremely high and both parties can independently track the data provenance.
"Our phones and Fitbits track our steps, calories, sleep cycles and more,” said Sean Moss-Pultz, CEO of Bitmark. “These data are empowering and help improve our wellbeing. They can also aid research in myriad areas. Through our partnership with UC Berkeley, we all can become data philanthropists and help advance public health."
This is the first public application of the Bitmark system. Berkeley has a long history of challenging established ideas with the goal of effecting positive change; it is one of the health industry's most innovative research sources.
The blockchain allows participants to verify what is being recorded and transferred without relying on central intermediaries. Berkeley students can know exactly where their data are being used and for what purposes; researchers can directly confirm the provenance of data and the students' consent to use it.
"Berkeley is excited to partner with Bitmark on this fellowship,” said Lauren Goldstein, director of research development at the School of Public Health. “It is a great opportunity for our young researchers to gain valuable hands-on experience at the intersection of public health and technology."
Beyond the partnership with Berkeley, Bitmark says it can benefit the larger public health system, affording transparent access to data, providing a network effect of usability via crowdsourcing, automating consent, via its uses of blockchain technology.