Passive Data Challenge: Data Privacy and Security

Join our Meetup on August 2nd for the chance build your own innovation using passive data.

The winners of our passive data challenge will receive:

  • 3M NIS investment and incubation from the eHV
  • A free trip to Copenhagen to compete in LEO Innovation Lab’s Global Challenge
  • 10k EUR prize, 3 months of mentoring & incubation in Copenhagen

Passive Data – caught between Privacy and Endless Possibility

Have you ever thought about how much your smartphone knows about you?

In a way, your smartphone is a reflection of you, as it collects data about everything from your day-to-day behaviour to your sleep patterns and interests. Access to these data creates endless possibilities to both understand, affect and even change behaviour.

But in the words of Voltaire (and Spiderman’s uncle):

With great power comes great responsibility.

So how do we ethically handle the tradeoff between the benefits that passive data entails and ethical access to private information?



Everyday, we create 2.5 quintillion new bytes of data. That’s enough to fill 10 million blu-ray discs, which, when stacked on top of each other, would be the same height as four Eiffel Towers.

And yet, we’re all intimately familiar with the horror stories of user data gone awry:

The hacking of servers to steal user information – from passwords to healthcare records.

The unauthorised spying of various algorithms an app is running in the background.

The use of passive data to ‘profile’ voters and sway elections.

Collecting passive data is risky if done incorrectly, and it should be taken very, very seriously.

Here’s an interesting discussion between a passive data expert and a CNN news-anchor about the powerful impact of data on the 2016 US elections:




Passive data may indeed give you a Big Brother vibe, and understandably so. Your phone is with you all day, which raises the very valid question of:

If we can get access to this vast amount of personal data, how do we make sure it’s handled properly and that the users’ privacy is protected and respected?

Because passive data collection does not require the active involvement of the participants and can possibly even take place without their knowledge, it poses major ethical concerns that need to be addressed.

Take Target as an example. They managed to find their way into the wombs of the customers through passive data. Each shopper were assigned a unique code, which made it possible to track their shopping habits. Through the identification of 25 products which, when purchased together, could strongly indicate that a woman was pregnant, Target would use this information to send out relevant coupons to their customers. Clever, right?

Well, things took quite a turn when a teenage girl was sent coupons for everything from maternity clothes to diapers. Her father was furious! He stomped down to Target and demanded to see the manager while accusing them for encouraging his young teenage daughter to get pregnant. Preposterous! The manager deeply apologised for the mishap; however, after a chat with his daughter, the father realised that Target were, well… right on the target. The daughter was pregnant.

The story demonstrates that first of all, collecting consent and clear communication should be baked into the design of every passive data solution. It’s essential that the users consent to the data collection and understand both how they are being tracked and why this data collection will ultimately benefit them.   

Clear communication should build trust, which not only secures your users’ future involvement, but also allows you to build a positive reputation.



As innovators, we must ask ourselves:

Am I asking for this data because I truly need it – or because I can?

Understanding the scope of the data collected and having a detailed hypothesis as to why we’re collecting it is crucial.

This question is equally important for the participants. If someone requests access to your photos, social media activity and movements, it’s only natural to want to know why before inviting someone into your private data-sphere.



Like any valuable asset, once passive data is collected, you also need to protect the information you’ve gathered.

Deciding who should be given access to the data and how much access is also critical and part of the ethical process of leveraging passive data. For example, if everybody from the CEO to cleaning lady can get their hands on the users’ personal information, you have a privacy and security problem.

One solution could be to only allow a few individuals to access the data, whereas others need to use API’s to get some of the data when necessary.

You also need to protect the data from outsiders. You may not have Big Brother intentions for the information you’ve gathered, but others might. Adequate cybersecurity measures must be in place to protect the users’ personal data.



By now you should be a passive data expert.


We hope you’ve gained a sense of what passive data is, its innovative uses within healthcare (and beyond), and what to be on the lookout for when venturing into this vast and wondrous territory.

Now it’s time for you to meet the challenge and make passive data unfold into new and exciting prospects!

We look forward to seeing you at the August 2nd Meetup.