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More (Limited) Peeks into Google Health
Posted on Thursday, February 28th, 2008 at 12:36 pm
Google has provided some more information about their beta eHealth product, including this claim regarding privacy and security:

Privacy and Security - Due to the sensitive and personal nature of the data that will be stored in Google Health, we need to conduct our health service with the same privacy, security, and integrity users have come to expect in all our services. Google Health will protect the privacy of your health information by giving you complete control over your data. We won’t sell or share your data without your explicit permission. Our privacy policy and practices have been developed in thoughtful collaboration with experts from the Google Health Advisory Council.

The notion that Google will conduct their health service with “the same privacy, security, and integrity users have come to expect in all our services” causes me some pause. Google currently tracks my search queries in order to place advertising, scans the content of incoming Gmail messages for similar monetization, and, given their vast suite of products and services linked by a common Google Account, has the ability to create detailed dossiers on users online activities.

I hope they treat my personal medical data with greater “privacy, security, and integrity” than how they track and monetize my general search activities and e-mail messages.

Google also states “We won’t sell or share your data without your explicit permission.” This is troubling to me as it signals the possibility exists that Google will want to sell or share my data with third parties. We need to learn more about what Google is contemplating here: What plans exist to sell or share my medical data if I do give explicit permission? How will my data be used, and by whom? How will my permission be granted? Will I know who is using the data and how? Can I decide I want to share it with certain parties and not others?

The note mentions the privacy policy for Google Health. A screenshot provided by Google also shows links to the service’s privacy policy. As far as I can tell, however, the actual policy hasn’t been made available, so we can’t evaluate its claims and promises. I urge Google to share this policy ASAP.

A bit more information as been made available via the press. This Cnet article notes that:

“Google won’t sell the data and won’t put ads on the site, but rather hopes to drive traffic to partner sites where there will be ads. In addition, Web searches will not be used to provide services or information to users of Google Health, Google representatives said.”

This provides a bit more clarity, but I still hope to be able to sit down with Google’s people to discuss these issues in more detail, much in the way Microsoft has made itself available on its HealthVault product.

(As an aside, I’m also tracking various conversations and debates over the extent to which HIPAA applies to these platforms - I hope to assemble my thoughts on that soon)


Comments (2)

Dr Bonis on March 5, 2008 8:48 PM:

I am a medical doctor. I see patients every day. Including the Emergency Room where I work.

Because of that, I deeply understand, not only theoretically but as part of my daily experience that patient-physician relationship is the key for the quality of health-care.

A patient must trust his doctor. If there is no confidence, we lost a lot (patients and docs).

Saying that, privacy of data becomes a real importante issue. A patient that talks about his sexual activities, extramatrimonial affairs, fears, weakness, mental health… should be sure that the doctor will not reveal that information to third parties.

During thousands years physician have follow this hippocrates oath sencente: What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.

So at the moment I designed the keyose (www.keyose.com) service, I have a very clear idea: privacy must be the priority number one!

Storing thousands of personal health records electronically has a big risk. What if someone unauthorized (a cracker for instance) access to the database? No matter how much money or effort you invest in the security of a system. There is no 100% secure system in the world. And the health information of thousand of people is very attractive to so many people (government, insurers, bank, private companies, criminals devoted to extortion…).

There are many companies entering the business of eHealth. Google Health, Microsoft HealthVault are just the two most known examples. As a medical doctor I am really concerned about the privacy of data. 90% of UK physicians and German doctors think like me.

Keyose was designed in such a way that no personal information is stored. We do not need your name, email or identity. And more importantly: We do not want it.

I would never put my personal, my patients or my relatives health information in a online database that contains the identity of the patients. You can trust me!

Dr. Julio Bonis

Ambulance Doctor on June 17, 2008 12:48 PM:

Is the previous comment a sort of advertising? I do not understand what the reader were speaking about.

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This blog, the result of a collaboration between myself and the Institute for the Future of the Book, is dedicated to exploring the process of writing a critical interpretation of the actions and intentions behind the cultural behemoth that is Google, Inc. The book will answer three key questions: What does the world look like through the lens of Google?; How is Google's ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge?; and how has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions, and states? [more]

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Like the Mind of God (22 posts)

All the World's Information (26 posts)

What If Big Ads Don't Work (10 posts)

Don't Be Evil (9 posts)

Is Google a Library? (43 posts)

Challenging Big Media (18 posts)

The Dossier (19 posts)

Global Google (3 posts)

Google Earth (3 posts)

A Public Utility? (19 posts)

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Rewiring the Nation: The Place of Technology in American Studies (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007)

The Anarchist in the Library (Basic Books, 2004)

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Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (New York University Press, 2001)


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