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Open mHealth Co-Founder Named MacArthur Fellow

October 4, 2018
by David Raths, Contributing Editor
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Recognized for ascertaining the potential of using the digital traces of our daily lives for participatory mobile health

Deborah Estrin, a professor of computer science at Cornell Tech and of healthcare policy and research at Weill Cornell Medicine, has been awarded a 2018 MacArthur Foundation fellowship for her work using mobile devices and data to address social challenges.

Macarthur fellows receive a no-strings-attached award of $625,000 over five years. In a release announcing the 25 award winners for 2018, Macarthur noted that Estrin was among the first to ascertain the potential of using the digital traces of our daily lives for participatory mobile health. “Our increasing reliance on personal electronic devices, such as cell phones, GPS, and fitness trackers, and online tools such as banking and shopping, generates an enormous amount of data about our personal behavior patterns—what Estrin calls ‘small data.’”

In 2011, Estrin and collaborators launched Open mHealth, an open-source software architecture to integrate various types of small data that could be used to build customized applications that address specific health conditions. Open mHealth avoids the proliferation of redundant, non-interoperable digital health services, and its scalability encourages wider adoption of mobile health technologies by individuals, researchers, and medical care providers.

Macarthur said that Estrin is also working to empower individuals to gain access to, curate, and ultimately act upon their personal small data. She and colleagues at the Small Data Lab are developing several platforms and applications for management and use of personal data.

In an interview for the Cornell website, Estrin stressed that privacy considerations are an important part of her work.

“The same data that is useful to help understand how someone is responding to a therapy or a drug is also data that can be very exposing about them,” she said. “I am interested in developing new ways to put these data and technologies to use in a way that is more privacy-aware from the perspective of the user and context than is typical in our social media-dominated online lives.”



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