Google wants your medical records

February 22, 2008 | 07:41

Tags: #data-protection #medical #medical-records #privacy

Companies: #google

As any fool knows, Google is always on the lookout for ways to learn yet more about its advertising targets. Sorry, I mean 'customers'. With its search engine, it knows what we look for. With Google Analytics it knows what we look at even if we use a different search engine. Google Checkout tells it what we buy. Gmail gives it access to all our e-mails and chat logs. Google Maps tells it where we're going, and Google Calendar tells it when we'll be there. With Google Books even your love for the printed word isn't safe.

With all of the above in mind, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that the advertising broker has announced that it is to store the medical records of between 1,500 and 10,000 patients of the Cleveland Clinic in a trial of a new service aimed at allowing individuals to take control of their own medical data.

The information stored by the trial will include information on any prescriptions the patient has, a complete medical history, and information about allergies and reactions to various medications. The company has stated that the information will be protected by the same password system used for Gmail and other personalised Google services.

In some ways, the move makes sense: we all know how much of a balls-up the NHS typically makes of IT projects, and Google certainly has experience in storing vast amounts of data and searching it in scant seconds. That said, at least they don't insert contextual advertising into my medical records.

Paranoid? Buy anti-depressants from our Hong Kong-based pharmacy! Ads by Google.

In the US, medical records are protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – HIPPA. This Act was passed in 1996 and classifies medical information as a private and privileged communication between the doctor and the patient. One of the protections this gives is that the doctor must notify a patient if copies of the records are requested by a third party, such as during insurance applications and criminal investigations. Third party information brokers – including Google – are not subject to HIPPA, so anyone signing up to the service could feasibly be putting their information at risk of undisclosed copying, distribution, and use for marketing purposes.

Sure, Google's come up with a metric tonne of fun and useful stuff; their motto is “Do No Evil.” But we're not talking a record of your pr0n searches here: we're talking a complete record of every reason you've ever had to see a doctor. Are you ready for Google to know about your little problem downstairs?

Do you think the trial could evolve into a useful service, or has Google taken a step too far in its quest for the most detailed marketing demographic imaginable? Discuss over in the forums.
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