retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Fascinating story from Reuters about how Amazon and Google are engaged in a kind of race "to store data on human DNA, seeking both bragging rights in helping scientists make new medical discoveries and market share in a business that may be worth $1 billion a year by 2018."

To begin with, the companies are providing services - Google Genomics or Amazon Web Services - that allow scientists to store the massive amounts of data that is being used to do things like develop "personalised medicine, which aims to base treatments on a patient's DNA profile. Making that a reality will require enormous quantities of data to reveal how particular genetic profiles respond to different treatments."

However, Amazon and Google also "are going beyond storage to offer analytical functions that let scientists make sense of DNA data. Microsoft and International Business Machines are also competing for a slice of the market."

To me, this is really interesting, Eye-Opening stuff, especially because it suggests the degree to which science and commerce can intermingle toward greater ends. This is an evolution not without peril ... we have a story below about a new study suggesting that Americans have a growing discomfiture with the degree to which companies can access, analyze and act upon their personal data. And if companies can access our data, it means that this information also is vulnerable to hackers, which creates all sorts of other problems.

That said ... sometimes, the subject of data collection can take on an entirely different tone. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a local benefit in my town that was raising money for a young man who needs a bone marrow transplant, and one of the things they did at the party was offer every attendee to have their mouths swabbed so their DNA could go into a national registry that would be accessible to patients needing transplants. To be honest, I didn't think twice - of course I did it. This wasn't about data, but about lives.

There's no question that we as a society are going to have to make some hard and important decisions about how far is too far when it comes to our information. And companies will, if they are smart, be sensitive to consumers' needs and concerns before the federal government gets involved, which it inevitably will if the world of data collection and analysis becomes the wild west.

These are not just business decisions. They are moral and ethical decisions, and conversations that business must be prepared not just to have, but to embrace.

They - and we - have no choice.
KC's View: