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    Published on September 19, 2023 last updated on September 19, 2023

    Smart Toilets Could Compromise Your Medical Data

    Three years back, a precision health-focused smart toilet was developed at Stanford University by Sanjiv “Sam” Gambhir, MD PhD and professor and chair of radiology. This was capable of detecting disease markers in urine and stool samples, including certain cancers and other health conditions. The technology uses motion sensing and various tests to assess the health of deposits, sending the data to a secure cloud-based system for analysis. 

    “The whole point is to provide precise, individualized health feedback, so we needed to make sure the toilet could discern between users. To do so, we made a flush lever that reads fingerprints.”

    -Gambhir, Professor and chair of Radiology (Source: Stanford

    Despite its promising potential, the concept of smart toilets faces significant challenges due to the sensitive and private nature of toileting habits. People are hesitant to embrace this technology due to concerns about its perceived dirtiness and the discomfort associated with discussing it, especially in a workplace setting.

    “There are big psychological barriers to advancing smart toilets. People think it’s too dirty, or they feel uncomfortable about it—it’s not socially acceptable to discuss, especially at work.”

    -Seung-min Park, Instructor of Urology at Stanford Medicin (Source: Futurity)

    One significant concern is the potential for data breaches. Malicious actors can hack into a smart toilet and access personal health data. Another issue raised is the possibility of law enforcement tracking drug usage through smart toilets. Seung-min Park, an instructor of urology at Stanford Medicine emphasized that data from an individual's home should only be accessible to their healthcare provider, protected by privacy laws. If illicit drug use were detected, individuals could seek care or recovery assistance from their doctor without legal consequences.

    As users may be afraid of giving consent, Park suggested a one-time, blanket consent agreement that users can revoke at any point, rather than requiring active consent every time they use the bathroom. He emphasizes that prioritizing privacy is paramount, treating the smart toilet as a medical device during initial deployment rather than a commercial product.

    In the future, the Stanford research team is excited about the possibility of incorporating smart toilets into smart city infrastructure. They are working alongside civil engineering departments and research institutions to investigate this potential. Their vision involves establishing a network of smart toilets that can gather public health data while safeguarding anonymity and sensitive information. 

    This network could have a vital role in monitoring the emergence of infectious diseases and aiding clinical trials for various health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and pelvic floor therapies. As they continue to develop this technology, the team is dedicated to addressing ethical, legal, and societal acceptance issues.

    Would you install a smart toilet? Join the conversation in our Yes We Trust community, a free discussion group for data privacy professionals and enthusiasts, on LinkedIn:

    Go to the Yes We Trust community

    avatar Jivika Lillaney

    Jivika Lillaney

    Content writer at Didomi. I am a digital creator who loves to explore the world and tick off things on my bucket list!