Google’s new health service gets a workout

29 Feb 2008

Not content with the search and online advertising market Google is now entering the area of online personal health records (PHRs) with Google Health but unlike its other services this is the one which will raise the most privacy issues.

Due to the nature of private data on personal health such as medications, health conditions, immunisations and previous illnesses, the storage and use of user data would need to differ hugely from that contained in Gmail or Google homepages.

“Google Health will protect the privacy of your health information by giving you complete control over your data,” said Google vice-president Marissa Mayer.

“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.”

This stance was clarified yesterday when CEO Eric Schmidt, at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference, said the platform will work like Google News and rely on site traffic to generate profit and as such will not be ad-supported.

Google Health will act as a platform for users to manage and access health records. It will be open to third parties with services that could potentially allow your doctor’s records or medication history from your chemist to be automatically imported and easily accessed.

The company said it is using the “launch early and iterate” strategy and is currently in the initial stages.

In May 2007, Google invested US$3.9m in 23andMe, an emerging biotechnology firm started by Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google co-founder Sergy Brin.

Although no crossover has been hinted between Google Health and 23andMe, the goals of both companies are somewhat similar. 23andMe offers a service to map DNA and compare with family and friends, explore your ancestry and keep a gene journal.

By Marie Boran