Are You Ready To Share Your Analprint With Big Tech?

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: For the past 10 years, Sonia Grego has been thinking about toilets -- and more specifically what we deposit into them. "We are laser-focused on the analysis of stool," says the Duke University research professor, with all the unselfconsciousness of someone used to talking about bodily functions. "We think there is an incredible untapped opportunity for health data. And this information is not tapped because of the universal aversion to having anything to do with your stool." As the co-founder of Coprata, Grego is working on a toilet that uses sensors and artificial intelligence to analyze waste; she hopes to have an early model for a pilot study ready within nine months. "The toilet that you have in your home has not functionally changed in its design since it was first introduced," she says, in the second half of the 19th century. There are, of course, now loos with genital-washing capabilities, or heated seats, but this is basic compared with what Grego is envisaging. "All other aspects of your life -- your electricity, your communication, even your doorbell -- have enhanced capabilities."

Smart toilet innovators believe the loo could become the ultimate health monitoring tool. Grego believes her product -- which analyses and tracks stool samples and sends the data to an app -- will provide "information related to cancer and many chronic diseases." For general consumers, it will provide peace of mind, she says, by establishing "a healthy baseline": "Having technology that tracks what is normal for an individual could provide an early warning that a checkup is needed." For people with specific conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, the device could provide helpful monitoring for doctors. "It's very difficult to know when to escalate or de-escalate treatment," she says. "Stool-based biomarkers can provide that information." At some point, she thinks, a smart toilet could make lifestyle suggestions -- it could tell you to eat more fibre or certain nutrients, for instance, or work out what kind of food triggered an uncomfortable gastric episode. "The science of nutrition is really moving in the direction of personalized nutrition," says Grego. "Our technology will be an enabler of this, because you have information of what you eat, but we can make seamless the obtaining of information of what comes out."

Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine have been working on technology that can analyze feces (including "stool dropping time") and track the velocity and color of urine, as well as test it. According to the Wall Street Journal, the researchers have partnered with Izen, a Korean toilet manufacturer that's developed a scanner that can recognize the physical characteristics of whoever is sitting on the toilet -- or, in the words of the researchers, "the distinctive features of their anoderm" (the skin of the anal canal). While many people are ready for the smart toilet era, Stanford's study of user acceptance found that the "least favored module is analprint."

The Guardian article continues: Is all this -- your analprint out in the world, the makeup of your bowel movements analyzed -- a privacy breach too far? "Can it be kept secure?" asks Eerke Boiten, a professor of cybersecurity at De Montfort University in Leicester. [...] Many people "wouldn't, for very good reasons, like cameras pointing up their bottoms," says Phil Booth, the coordinator of MedConfidential, which campaigns for the confidentiality of medical records. That said, under the guidance of a medical professional, "there are not necessarily inherent privacy risks" in using a smart toilet as a medical device, he says. However, it might get interesting if the data created by general consumer use was owned by a company: "You may trust that particular company, but every company is pretty much buyable by Google or Facebook or Amazon. Then, what I thought was something for my own health monitoring has become fodder to business models I really know nothing about."

Where does it end? Could the police or others involved in surveillance track you by analprint, via the public and home smart lavatories you visit? Might you be asked to provide a print at a police station? [...] "Once you start to measure something that is of the body, the privacy line is stepped over," says Booth. "If you don't measure what's going on with someone's bowel movements, the bowel movement is private." This is an alarming thought -- but, says Booth with a laugh, it is not as though governments will mandate smart toilets. He says there will always be people -- those into the "quantified self" movement -- who are happy to measure and track themselves. If smart loos are considered clinical devices collecting medical data, "then it's a straight medical breach risk -- not special to toilets, but because you've turned the toilet into a medical data-generating experience. Are they managing those risks correctly?"