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.
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."