Google and healthBack
Last week, Google held the Check Up, its annual health event. Of course with a lot of buzz about bringing 'high-quality health information, insights and education to people and healthcare providers'. Google plays a big role when it comes to health: the search engine is consulted hundreds of millions of times a day with health-related questions, and YouTube videos about health issues were viewed more than 110 billion times worldwide in 2021. Not to mention the information you get through wearables and other mobile devices.
And it must be said, Google is working on some great projects: making health insurers and benefit programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare, easily approachable and more accessible to Americans. And it builds several AI models to cost-effectively interpret ultrasound images used in determining gestational age, early detection of breast cancer and early screening for tuberculosis (still in the top 10 leading causes of death worldwide). These models are intended to make preventive health care easier and cheaper, especially for countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In these countries maternal mortality is high and there is a shortage of workers trained to operate traditional, expensive ultrasound machines. And Google is donating 100,000 free TB screenings that use the AI models. So, nice projects.
But Google has two faces. The aforementioned projects are undeniably well-intentioned and commendable, but of course the questions always remain: 'are these countries and people not simply used as guinea pigs to test or improve the AI model?' and ‘what happens with the data?'. And often this is not clear or questionable. Such as with the recording of the health of individuals through wearables, such as watches / heart rate monitors. Google says it's betting on understanding sleep patterns, stress levels and more. The Fitbit Health Metrics Dashboard records changes and trends in respiration rate, skin temperature, blood oxygen, and more. You can now see for a longer period of time which of these data have changed for you and deviate from the standard.
Google has access to and analyzes this personal data. It says it does this purely statistically, not on an individual level, but do you really want Google to be the first to discover a heart rhythm disorder in you? What does Google do with the data from your Health Dashboard?
Google uses all the data it receives to make ads more targeted and thus sell more ads. Does this mean that you suddenly see an advertisement for a drug against heart rhythm disorders?
In short, Google is doing well with a number of healthcare projects, but it is still advisable to remain critical and to continuously monitor whether the data and interests of individual users are sufficiently safeguarded.