Google Health Launches to Questions About Privacy
Other Google Health features include a "virtual pillbox" that will notify users via SMS (Short Message Service) to their cell phones when it's time to take a pill; a personalized news service that tailors news to users' health profiles; an immunization dashboard; and services that convert paper medical records to an electronic format.
It is this information control and empowerment that Google is touting as one of the benefits of the service. Traveling users who can access a computer can pull up their PHRs and other relevant health information-and do so with what Google insisted is "strong" privacy. Zeiger stressed that the information stored in health can only be shared with a user's consent.
"The user decides who, if anyone, should have access to their records and can revoke that access at any time," Zeiger said. "We will not sell any users' data and we won't share it with anyone unless someone specifically asks us to. No Google Health user should expect [to] or will ever find their health information as search results anywhere on Google."
Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience, said Google Health is secured by special computing infrastructure that is stronger even than the security that protects Google's search technology. Clearly, this data is highly encrypted, or Google would put itself at high risk of lawsuits.
Compared with other vertical markets that have moved from brick-and-mortar trappings to the Internet, the online PHR market is a ripe, green field for search vendors. After all, the majority of people looking for health information online start with a search engine, and Google and Microsoft are happy to oblige them.
Google Health, like Microsoft's HealthVault, is free. Search vendors have remained largely quiet about how they would make money from such services, though it is believed that Google and Microsoft will eventually connect their online ad platforms to the service.
For Google, this might not be much different from the way the search vendor places ads for its millions of Gmail users, unobtrusively and on the side of users' screens in Gmail.
However, there are obvious privacy concerns search providers have to address. Ads for wedding cakes and furniture stores are one thing, but users will not necessarily take kindly to being targeted by pill pitches from drug companies.