Have you ever wondered why your computer often shows you ads that seem tailor-made for your interests? The answer is big data. By combing through extremely large datasets, analysts can reveal patterns in your behavior.

A particularly sensitive type of big data is medical big data. Medical big data can consist of electronic health records, insurance claims, information entered by patients into websites such as PatientsLikeMe and more. Health information can even be gleaned from web searches, Facebook and your recent purchases.

Such data can be used for beneficial purposes by medical researchers, public health authorities, and healthcare administrators. For example, they can use it to study medical treatments, combat epidemics and reduce costs. But others who can obtain medical big data may have more selfish agendas.

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