This month the NHS and Amazon have teamed up so people can ‘Ask Alexa’ for NHS verified health information.
Amazon’s algorithm will use information supplied in the NHS website to provide answers to health related questions such as: “Alexa what are the symptoms of a migraine?”, “Alexa how do you treat the flu?”.
The partnership has been hailed by health officials as a way to give people more control of their own care – and of course help ease the pressure on GPs and hospitals.
But despite the positive spin, many are concerned about what it means for the safety of patients’ personal data.
And some are questioning the ethics of the NHS ‘powering’ a profit-making organisations which openly uses data in targeted advertising.
Officials have responded, saying the technology would not allow Amazon to store any health data in order to target adverts at those using Alexa for information about symptoms.
However, understandably some people feel burned by how their personal data has been abused in the past by some of the most profitable organisations in the world.
The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal was reported to have resulted in excess of 87m people’s data being improperly shared.
Before I go further, I want to make it absolutely clear that I’m a total supporter of healthcare being made more accessible using technology. The current system is broken.
I’ve used Push Doctor when I couldn’t get an appointment with my GP for 3 months, I’ve had Skype consultations and yes…to the dread of all healthcare professionals out there, I like millions of other people have Googled symptoms and yes, self-diagnosed a few times too.
But here’s my concern – when people are desperate for help and they can’t access it through the traditional routes they will try anything they can for some support. And that could mean giving permission and access to their personal data and it being used in a way they don’t fully comprehend.
Let’s face it. How many people agree to terms and conditions that they’ve never read? I hold my hands up to it.
The recent FaceApp Challenge is a great example of what I mean. It is a Russian owned smartphone app which allows you to see what you might look like in old age.
Millions downloaded it, celebrities bombarded us with what they would look like if it wasn’t for copious amounts of Botox and filler. But how many knew that by doing so they were giving permission for FaceAPp to use, modify, adapt and publish any of these images?
FaceApp can also use your name, username or any likeness provided in any media format it likes without compensation.
Personal information given away for free – and that’s just for entertainment. Imagine what some people could risk when they’ve reached the end of their tether trying to access NHS treatment from a system that can’t cope.