How Google Is Stealing Your Personal Health Data

Posted by on November 30, 2019 in Hazards, Issues & Diseases, Health with 0 Comments

By Dr. Mercola | Waking Times

Google, by far one of the greatest monopolies that ever existed, and poses a unique threat to anyone concerned about health, supplements, food and your ability to obtain truthful information about these and other issues.

This year, we’ve seen an unprecedented push to implement censorship across all online platforms, making obtaining and sharing crucial information about holistic health increasingly difficult.

As detailed in “Stark Evidence Showing How Google Censors Health News,” Google’s June 2019 update, which took effect June 3, effectively removed Mercola.com and hundreds of other natural health sites from Google search results. Google is also building a specific search tool for medical and health-related searches.1

And, while not the sole threat to privacy, Google is definitely one of the greatest. Over time, Google has positioned itself in such a way that it’s become deeply embedded in your day-to-day life, including your health.

In recent years, the internet and medicine have become increasingly intertwined, giving rise to “virtual medicine” and self-diagnosing — a trend that largely favors drugs and costly, invasive treatments — and Google has its proverbial fingers in multiple slices of this pie.


Health Data Mining Poses Unique Privacy Risks

For example, in 2016, Google partnered with WebMD, launching an app allowing users to ask medical questions.2 The following year, Google partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, launching a depression self-assessment quiz which turned out to be little more than stealth marketing for antidepressants.3,4

Google and various tech startups have also been investigating the possibility of assessing mental health problems using a combination of electronic medical records and tracking your internet and social media use.

In 2018, Google researchers announced they’d created an artificial intelligence-equipped retinal scanner that can appraise your risk for a heart attack.5

According to a recent Financial Times report,6 Google, Amazon and Microsoft collect data entered into health and diagnostic sites, which is then shared with hundreds of third parties — and this data is not anonymized, meaning it’s tied to specifically to you, without your knowledge or consent.

What this means is DoubleClick, Google’s ad service, will know which prescriptions you’ve searched for on Drugs.com, thus providing you with personalized drug ads. Meanwhile, Facebook receives information about what you’ve searched for in WebMD’s symptom checker.

“There is a whole system that will seek to take advantage of you because you’re in a compromised state,” Tim Lebert, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University told Financial Times.7 “I find that morally repugnant.”

While some find these kinds of technological advancements enticing, others see a future lined with red warning flags. As noted by Wolfie Christl, a technologist and researcher interviewed by Financial Times:8

“These findings are quite remarkable, and very concerning. From my perspective, this kind of data are clearly sensitive, has special protections

The following graphic, created by Financial Times, illustrates the flow of data from BabyCenter.com, a site that focuses on pregnancy, children’s health and parenting, to third parties, and the types of advertising these third parties then generate.

Tech Companies Are Accessing Your Medical Records

As described in the featured Wall Street Journal video,9 a number of tech companies, including Amazon, Apple and the startup Xealth, are diving into people’s personal electronic medical records to expand their businesses.

Xealth has developed an application that is embedded in your electronic health records. Doctors who use the Xealth application — which aims to serve most health care sectors and is being rapidly adopted as a preferred “digital formulary”10 — give the company vast access to market products to their patients. The app includes lists of products and services a doctor believes might be beneficial for certain categories of patients.

When seeing a patient, the doctor will select the products and services he or she wants the patient to get, generating an electronic shopping list that is then sent to the patient. The shopping links direct the patient to purchase these items from Xealth’s third-party shopping sites, such as Amazon.

As noted in the video, “Some privacy experts worry that certain Xealth vendors can see when a patient purchased a product through Xealth, and therefore through their electronic health record.” In the video, Jennifer Miller, assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine says:

”In theory, it could boost adherence to physician recommendations, which is a huge challenge in the U.S. health care system. On the other side, there are real worries about what type of information Amazon in particular is getting access to.

 

So, from what I understand, when a patient clicks on that Xealth app and is taken to Amazon, the data are coded as Xealth data, which means Amazon likely knows that you purchased these products through your electronic health records.”

Amazon Is Mining Health Records

Amazon, in turn, has developed software, called Amazon Comprehend Medical, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to mine people’s electronic health records. This software has been sold to hospitals, pharmacies, researchers and various other health care providers.

The software reveals medical and health trends that might otherwise go unnoticed. As one example, given in the video, a researcher can use this software to mine tens of thousands of health records to identify candidates for a specific research study.

While this can certainly be helpful, it can also be quite risky, due to potential inaccuracies. Doctors may enter inaccurate data for a patient, for example, data that, were it accurate, would render that patient a poor test subject.

Apple is also getting in on the action through its health app. It facilitates access to electronic medical records by importing all your records directly from your health care provider. The app is meant to be “helpful” by allowing you to pull up your medical records on your iPhone and present them to any doctor, anywhere in the world.

What Does This Mean for Your Privacy

While tech companies like Amazon and Apple claim your data are encrypted (to protect it from hacking) and that they cannot view your records directly, data breaches have become so common that such “guarantees” are next to worthless.

As noted in the video by Dudley Adams, a data use expert at the University of California, San Francisco, “No encryption is perfect. All it takes is time for that encryption to be broken.” One very real concern about having your medical records hacked into is that your information may be sold to insurance companies and your employer, which they can then use against you, either by raising your rates or denying employment.

After all, sick people cost insurance companies and employers more money, so both have a vested interest in avoiding chronically ill individuals. So, were your medical records to get out, you could potentially become uninsurable or unemployable.

Google Collects Health Data on Millions of Americans

Getting back to Google, a whistleblower recently revealed the company amassed health data from millions of Americans in 21 states through its Project Nightingale,11,12 and patients have not been informed of this data mining. As reported by The Guardian:13

“A whistleblower who works in Project Nightingale … has expressed anger to the Guardian that patients are being kept in the dark about the massive deal.

 

The anonymous whistleblower has posted a video on the social media platform Daily Motion that contains a document dump of hundreds of images of confidential files relating to Project Nightingale.

 

The secret scheme … involves the transfer to Google of healthcare data held by Ascension, the second-largest healthcare provider in the U.S. The data is being transferred with full personal details including name and medical history and can be accessed by Google staff. Unlike other similar efforts it has not been made anonymous though a process of removing personal information known as de-identification …

 

Among the documents are the notes of a private meeting held by Ascension operatives involved in Project Nightingale. In it, they raise serious concerns about the way patients’ personal health information will be used by Google to build new artificial intelligence and other tools.”

The anonymous whistleblower told The Guardian:

“Most Americans would feel uncomfortable if they knew their data was being haphazardly transferred to Google without proper safeguards and security in place. This is a totally new way of doing things. Do you want your most personal information transferred to Google? I think a lot of people would say no.”

On a side note, the video the whistleblower uploaded to Daily Motion has since been taken down, with a note saying the “video has been removed due to a breach of the Terms of Use.”

According to Google and Ascension, the data being shared will be used to build a search tool with machine-learning algorithms that will spit out diagnostic recommendations and suggestions for medications that health professionals can then use to guide them in their treatment.

Google claims only a limited number of individuals will have access to the data, but just how trustworthy is Google these days? Something tells me that since the data includes full personal details, they’ll have no problem figuring out a way to eventually make full use of it.

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