I appreciate good rumors and conspiracy theories as much as the next journalist but some of them are head scratchers.
Privacy rights group Consumer Watchdog believes that Google is supporting a lobbying effort that OKs the sale of electronic medical records so that it can sell these to advertisers on its new Google Health service. Google Health is a personal health portal where users can store and easily access their medical records.
The concern thinks Google is working politicos to augment the current economic stimulus package, so the group appealed to "Congress to remove loopholes in the ban on the sale of medical records and include other privacy protections absent from the current bill."
Accusing Google of hawking health records for financial gain is an incredibly strong allegation and unfortunately the Consumer Watchdog does not cite evidence, does not even provide a link to a blog post or article about this.
Of course, when you make an evil allegation of corporate greed about a company whose motto is "don't be evil," you're going to get a response, which for Google is an emphatic "your full of it and you have no proof."
What Google Senior Policy Counsel Pablo Chavez really wrote in a blog post was:
"This claim -- based on no evidence whatsoever -- is 100 percent false and unfounded. Google does not sell health data. In fact, one of our most steadfast privacy principles is that we don't sell our users' personal data, whether it's stored in Google Health, Gmail, or in any of our products. And from a policy perspective, we oppose the sale of medical information in the health care industry."
Chavez could not have been plainer on that and goes on to say that Google supports strong privacy protections for medical records and that consumers own their electronic medical data.
And now, a word on the issue. Selling health records for financial gain is wrong on so many levels, legally, morally and ethically.
Google would have to either be really desperate for cash, which at $15.85 billion in cash flow as of the latest earnings report it's clearly not, or really stupid because such an effort would be tantamount to corporate suicide. And we know that Google is loaded with smart people.
What some pundits don't get is that while, yes, Google has become this grand moneymaking machine and is seeking to gather more data on users to improve its search and display advertising prospects, the company is also not going to risk irretrievably breaking the public's trust. It's already hedging its bets on those fronts if you look at how the government struck down it's deal with Yahoo with authority.
It's impossible for a search and Web service provider to grow as large as Google and not inspire some distrust for the data it does collect. But to suggest that Google would do something that would shatter consumer confidence in it for good assumes that Google has gotten so arrogant as to feel it can take risks that will tick consumers off.
The government is already suspicious of Google for gross privacy infringement because of the search log data and advertising practices. Why fan those flames? Neither the public nor the government would brook such trespass.
Google may weather the recession better than anyone else, but it's not in the position to abuse the public's health records without severe recrimination. Most people who follow Google know this and believe it to be true, which is why I think Consumer Watchdog has fallen prey to the poison being poured into its ears.
Are the folks at the big Redmond machine playing the role of King Claudius?