As a healthcare innovation and femtech attorney, Bethany Corbin is on a mission to help thought-leading companies – both national and international – revolutionize the global women’s health sector. Bethany is a strong advocate for women’s health and wellness and is passionate about transforming the way society thinks about human health. With almost a decade’s worth of hands-on legal experience, she empowers pioneering femtech companies to achieve their goals with well-crafted legal counsel and strategic guidance.
Women are 50% of the world’s population and account for 80% of consumer purchasing decisions in the healthcare industry. So why is it that women’s health has been considered a niche market, a subset of healthcare, or Femtech? This business opportunity is estimated at over $1 billion for a range of tech-enabled, consumer-centric products such as at-home diagnostics, trackers, and wearables. But Femtech also brings with it various risks if you are not savvy in navigating the emerging space. Femtech lawyer and expert Bethany Corbin joins this episode to discuss all the opportunities and risks associated with Femtech and how her own work with startups and venture capital companies is bringing new innovations to the marketplace.
[00:00:00] KRISTINA PODNAR, host: Recently, the FTC filed a lawsuit against data broker Kochava Incorporated for selling data that could be used to trace the movement of individuals from a sensitive location. What does this lawsuit mean for data tracking and selling?
[00:00:13] INTRO: Welcome to The Power of Digital Policy, a show that helps digital marketers, online communications directors, and others throughout the organization balance out risks and opportunities created by using digital channels. Here's your host, Kristina Podnar.
[00:00:30] KRISTINA: Hello to all of you listening today, and welcome back to the Power of Digital Policy. I'm happy that you found some time to listen today as I speak with healthcare innovation and Femtech attorney Bethany Corbin, who's on a mission to help thought-leading companies, both national and international, revolutionize the global women's health sector.
Bethany, I think I mentioned this to you as we hopped on the call this morning, but I'm super excited to speak with you today, and I have a slew of questions. But before we dive in, I want to take a step back and ask you to help us understand fundamentally what is Femtech and what does it mean to be a Femtech attorney?
[00:01:06] BETHANY CORBIN, guest: Well, thank you so much for having me on the show today. I'm really excited to be here and to talk about one of my favorite topics, which is, of course, data privacy, data selling, and what that means for companies. So I think we're going to have a great discussion. Femtech is actually short for female health technology, and so it's really the intersection of women's health and digital health combining to form solutions that are going to help revolutionize women's healthcare going forward. And as we all know, women have really been excluded from modern medicine and modern science for much of their history. They weren't even allowed to participate in clinical trials until 1993. And so Femtech really arose from the fact that women have historically been excluded from modern medicine. The fact that they are not the same as men, there's been a lot of application today of modern medicine to women on kind of a one size fits all basis, where we take male physiology and apply the same symptoms, diseases, and ailments to women without taking into account how their physiology may make those symptoms and diseases different. So that's really where Femtech arose, which is designed to use these digital health solutions to help propel women's healthcare forward and make sure that we're taking into account differences in gender and sex for healthcare going forward. I am a Femtech and a healthcare innovation attorney. And so, really what that means for me is that I am at the forefront of these cutting-edge digital health solutions that are impacting individuals globally. And my interest is in being a woman's health advocate. And for that reason, I focus a large portion of my practice on helping women's healthcare companies start up and enter this space and then walking them through a kind of first fundraising, their subsequent fundraises, and how they can operate compliantly. And today is the healthcare market, which, as many people know, is governed by a ton of regulations, and it's very difficult to navigate and really help them through to the exit. And my personal passion is just watching these companies grow and seeing the new solutions that they're bringing to life and how this could transform healthcare nationwide.
[00:03:19] KRISTINA: So, you're making my heart go put our patter, Bethany, because one of the things we'd like to talk about around here is the balance between risk and opportunity, right? Anytime we have any kind of innovation, we have this risk aspect, but we also have our opportunity aspect, and it's critical for most organizations to understand how they want to balance that out. And this is such an interesting and evolving area; as you said, it's something that's fairly new. I mentioned a moment ago the FTC lawsuit against Kochava; how did that lawsuit come about, and why should consumers and businesses care about what's going on?
[00:06:57] KRISTINA: Are you seeing this lawsuit almost as a signal to other companies? Do you think that the FTC is going to come out with maybe clearer regulations and guidance around what organizations should be thinking about when they're looking at collecting sensitive data or potentially sensitive data? It could be me standing on a corner of New York City where it's harmless, or it could be me at a health clinic, which I might not want floating out there. So is this a phase you think where we're going to get more clarity on sensitive information that should or shouldn't be collected and disclosed, or where do you think we're going? Just look at your crystal ball for us, if you will.
[00:07:34] BETHANY: Yes. I, I can tell you the writing on the wall that I have seen is that we are going to see increased regulation of consumer data, especially consumer healthcare data going forward. We've seen this lawsuit against Kochava right now. We've also seen the FTC starting to seek input and looking at advanced public rule-making with respect to commercial surveillance and data security. And so what that means is the FTC recognizes that the uses and disclosures of data may not be in consumers' best interest. They may not be protective of consumers. We may not be giving consumers a meaningful choice in how they use their data or how they choose to disclose their data. And, the protections around that data may not be strong enough. And so that's what the FTC right now is really diving into, is looking at what additional protections we might need for consumers and their data going forward. And now it's kind of the time which any interested individuals can participate in that advanced notice of proposed rulemaking and add some comments there, trying to influence the way that the FTC is going to consider this going forward. They're in those very early stages of their rule-making process, but it's something that the FTC is highly focused on right now, and it's something that I think it takes a long time to get that clarity. We're at the beginning stages right now. But over the next year or two, I think we're going to start to see some changing regulations, change in requirements. We're going to see also these types of investigations and complaints by federal and potentially state agencies as well, looking into deceptive practices related to consumer data, and I think that's being used as well as you mentioned, as a signal for where the agency wants to go in the near future with these regulations. It's also a signal to other companies that are out there. That they're taking this seriously, right? If you're a data broker that does something similar to what Kochava is doing, this is something you wanna be watching because how the FTC rules on this, right, or the settlement that they enter into could be reflective of how they might treat your organization going forward. It helps to set those standards that may not yet be memorialized in a rule-making process, but really gives insight into the agency's thinking and kind of where they're hoping to take this in the future.
[00:09:50] KRISTINA: Bethany, you mentioned your work with startups and early stage funding of companies. One of the things that I get frequently asked is why should any company that's in startup mode put together policies. I think fear is always, it's going to slow things down. It's going to limit creativity or innovation. But I think the opposite side of that is possibly additional venture funding, maybe; what do you see in the startup space? Is this an opportunity for organizations in terms of how they position their products and services?
[00:10:22] BETHANY: Absolutely. And I will tell you, as a privacy and security attorney who very much wants to make sure that consumer privacy is safeguarded, I get a lot of pushbacks from startup companies, you've got a limited amount of funding and get your product design, you've gotta get marketing. You've gotta make it so that you can take that product and commercialize it to the extent you need regulatory approvals to do that. You've gotta hire your tech team. All of these competing interests for the money that you've got as a startup company make it so a lot of startup companies don't wanna invest in privacy and security at the outset. A lot of times, they also get pushback because they think, while I'm a startup company, so you know, if the government's going to come after someone or if a cyber criminal's going to come after someone, it's not going to be me, right? I'm a pretty small piece of fruit on this huge platter where there are other opportunities for the government and for cybercriminals to go after companies that may have a lot more data or be using that data improperly at this time. The thing that I always tell startup companies is we've gotta shift from this risk mitigation mindset into a proactive mindset of how privacy and security and how you use data in those protections is actually going to benefit you as a company. So too often, we get in this mindset where we're being reactive. We think those policies and the data security infrastructure that we build are just to protect consumer data from these cyber hacks, right? Protect us from regulatory investigations as the company, but we don't think about how that might actually help us close deals faster. And that's really what I like to stress the startup companies. If you build these privacy and security and data protection practices and policies into your company at the outset, especially if you incorporate some of the aspects like privacy and security by design, what that means is you're actually building a really solid foundation that's going to allow you to obtain funding and close deals faster. And the reason is this, especially in the wake and if you're a healthcare company, for instance. This is really important. But in the wake of the dismantling of Roe versus Wade, a lot of investors have really started to emphasize privacy. It might have been something, and I heard an investor tell me, tell it to me this way before, they said privacy was something we looked at before, but it was a lower-case p. Now we're looking at privacy and all capital letters. So, as you're preparing for that fundraising, one of the things that you're going to get asked about, most likely by your investors, Is, what are you doing with this data? Are you selling it? How are you protecting it? How are you making sure that you're not disclosing sensitive data downstream to third parties who don't have a use for it or don't have a legitimate use or need for it? So having those policies and procedures in place before you go and try to raise that round is going to help you satisfy your investors, right? Show them that you know what you're doing in this market. Show them that you're also taking seriously your users' and your consumers' privacy and security and their data protection. It's also going to help you as you start to make those industry partnerships; it'll help you make them faster. Because oftentimes, even if you're not required to comply with certain privacy security data practices on your own, you're oftentimes going to be seeking partnerships with larger companies that have very robust privacy, security, and data protection practices and requirements. Because what they're have happened, right? They want a very secure and high-standard environment for data and privacy. So they're not going to contract or otherwise engage with companies that aren't going to meet the privacy, security, and data protection standards that they've got in place. If you've got that infrastructure built already, then that's not going to be a problem for you; you'll be able to say, Yes, I meet X, Y, Z requirements. I'm good to go. If you haven't built that infrastructure yet, what's going to happen is you're going to have to pause. You're going to have to take six to nine months to build that infrastructure, and then you'll have to go back and continue negotiating that deal, and it can really delay your ability to enter into that partnership and start gaining more publicity, more funding, all of that faster.
[00:14:35] KRISTINA: Well said, Bethany, one of the things that I think oftentimes even I forget about is how fast you have to slam on the brakes when you're non-compliant. You want to enter into a deal with that larger company or somebody who's upstream or downstream of you. So, it's not just about you, it's about the ecosystem that you're operating in. So, excellent, excellent point. I'm wondering, as you're talking about that, and thinking about the broader ecosystem, what are the key data privacy concerns for Femtech, especially when we start expanding beyond the United States, there's the EU, we have a lot of emerging practices in Asia. What are you seeing globally, and is it any different than what you're seeing in the US?
[00:19:12] KRISTINA: With that in mind, Bethany, do you think that consumers are aware at all of what it means to have their data collected? My perspective is yes, everybody should be paying attention to privacy and security, but that's also from a very digital policy Sherpa perspective. But do you think there's actually been an uptick in consumers caring more? What are you seeing out there in the marketplace?
[00:27:45] KRISTINA: It sounds like in addition to teaching keyboard, which we still do in junior high, and I can't believe that we do that. In personal finance, we definitely need a course on data privacy and security. So maybe if somebody's listening who's in education, they can take up the mantle and help us get it done.
[00:28:48] KRISTINA: Oh, I hope so. I'm going to invite you out to coffee in four years and ask you if anything's changed. I hope so.
[00:28:54] BETHANY: I really hope so too.
[00:28:56] KRISTINA: I was reading a Mackenzie report, and they said depending on the scope, they estimate that Femtech's current market size can range anywhere from 500 million to 1 billion, which is huge. I'm curious; we've been talking so much about risks and privacy and security by design, but what excites you the most about the future of Femtech?
[00:29:17] BETHANY: I think there are a couple of things. There's definitely a lot of excitement. There's also some trepidation and some risk. From the negative side, first, I think we've got to build Femtech companies that have privacy and security at the forefront because of the fact that we've got the dobs decision now and women are losing a lot of their confidence in Femtech because we don't have this strong data privacy and data security practices right now. And so I think, on the Femtech side, a lot of companies, especially startups, are scrambling a bit to try to go back and revise their privacy policies and procedures, try to reassure consumers of how they're using their data. But I've started to see consumers abandon the market because of that because we don't have that strong privacy and security infrastructure right now. And so that, that's something that worries me about the future for Femtech. I don't think we're going to see a total abandonment of the Femtech market, but if we don't shore up those privacy and security practices to a way that makes consumers comfortable sharing their data, we're not going to be promoting the access to care that we need. We're not going to be promoting women's healthcare. We're also going to see some disparities, I think, in kind of the diversity of data that we attract into these apps going forward. From a concerned perspective, what we need to focus on is making sure that we're getting privacy and security absolutely right in Femtech so that we don't lose the significant gains that we've made in this market to date. Cause Femtech is relatively new. It was coined in 2016, and it's got substantial growth, as you mentioned up to a billion dollars so far. And its projected kind of going forward through like 2027 to maybe even reach 50 billion. So, the possibility is there; we've got a lot of work to do right now to ensure that we can obtain that potential. And once we set that aside, I think what excites me the most about Femtech is its possibilities in terms of how many diseases we can tackle and how much we can revolutionize women's healthcare. Right now, I will say that the majority of the Femtech market is focused on things like reproductive health and maternal healthcare, those types of things that are really tied to the reproductive health system, which has led to a bit of conflation between Femtech and reproductive health. But as we all know, women's health is so much more than that, and we're starting to see those other companies come in and target things like chronic women's health conditions. There's a really cool startup company right now called AOA, and it's actually focused on creating a blood test for ovarian cancer. So those types of companies that we're now starting to see enter this market and tackle those long-term or chronic women's health conditions, those excite me the most because I think that that's really going to revolutionize how women's healthcare expands and potentially even change the course of millions of lives of women, we're able to focus on these longer-term problems that women experience. And the passion is there. The number of startups, companies coming into the field, the number of founders are there, and I think we've just gotta keep pushing. It's been great to see the gains that we've made in Femtech over the past several years and really, for me, what's exciting is, is that future, once we shore up the privacy and the security and redeem consumer trust, I don't think there's going to be a lot of limits to what we can do in the future. I think we're going to be a very successful industry and I think that we're going to impact millions lives of women.
[00:32:48] KRISTINA: That's such an upbeat message and a good way to conclude today's conversation. This has been an amazing conversation. Bethany. Thank you so much for popping by today and sharing your insights. I think more than anything, like I said before we started recording, I appreciate you being able to speak in plain language about business, digital technologies, emerging technologies, Femtech, and also the law, your rare breed. And we certainly appreciate you joining us today.
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