Medical Data: A Google Focus for More Than a Decade

November 12, 2019

Medical data. Google has a bit of history. In 2008, Google made a play for personal health records. Don’t remember. Here’s what the interface looked like:


In 2011, this bold play went away. Doesn’t that sound familiar? A discontinued Google service.

Then Google bought DeepMind, the black hole of investment in the UK. DarkCyber noted this story: “Revealed: Google AI Has Access to Huge Haul of NHS Patient Data.” The write up stated:

A data-sharing agreement obtained by New Scientist shows that Google DeepMind’s collaboration with the NHS goes far beyond what it has publicly announced.

There was a dust up, but The Register reported: “Five NHS Trusts Do DeepMind Data Deal with Google. One Says No.”

DarkCyber noted the flurry of reports about Google’s tie up with Ascension, the second largest health care outfit in the US. You can read the paywalled Wall Street Journal story or you can look at one of the dozens of posts recycling this deal.

A few comments, perhaps? Why not?

First, Google has been beavering away at personal health data, including the famous CDC flue report, for more than a decade. Why? That’s a good question.

Second, Google needs new revenue. I know it sounds crazy, but the ad biz is not the same old money machine it was because the cost of “being Google” is rising more rapidly than Google’s old money machine can handle. That’s why YouTube will cuts costs by trimming un-commercial videos. Plus, there are other problems; for example, Google’s famous management style. Health data may open some revenue opportunities? Yep, a handful.

Third, Google’s information is asymmetric. There is a lot of data from Web sites, books, and other open sources. But Google is a laggard when it comes to juicy, useful, easily exploitable fine grained personal data in the hands of Amazon and Facebook. Health data is a useful goodie. Health data is proprietary and quite person centric.

What can Google do with health data? Many things. But those applications are secondary in this blog post. The point today, gentle reader, is that Google is not doing anything new. Health data has been a focal point for a relatively long time.

Oh, would you buy Google insurance? No. Would your would be employer buy information revealing a person was addicted to something? No. You might want to think about your answer. What about personalized ads to the parents of a child with an “issue”? No. Okay. No.

Stephen E Arnold, November 12, 2019


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