The broad dissemination of information technology and the use of the Internet in very varied fields, both professional and personal, has triggered an unprecedented rush to collect data of all kinds. This data, personalized or pooled, makes up what today we call “big data”, a mass of highly diverse information that can be used for many and varied purposes, depending on the motivations of the companies or bodies exploiting it. In the health sector, the exploitation of big data is a source of both hope (since it may improve the understanding and solution of medical problems) and dangers (excessive monitoring of individual behaviour, ethical questions etc.), and it is important to bear this in mind if society is to gain optimal benefit from the use of this data.
Daniel Eilstein and Jérôme Pozuelos offer an overview here of the data gathered in France today with regard to health, how that data is processed, and the questions raised by the protection of personal data. They also show the perspectives opened up in the medical field by the use of such mass data (particularly through what is called data cross-referencing). Here again, research will have to find a solution to the freedom/security dilemma but, provided certain ethical conditions are respected, some noteworthy advances may well eventuate.