Tech Giants Gravitate Towards Healthcare Sector, Raises Data Security Worries

In 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook declared that “there will be a day we look back and say Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind has been in healthcare.”

Just like Apple, many tech giants including Google, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft have set their sights on the $3.5 trillion healthcare sector. Subsequently, through a slew of initiatives many of these companies have now gained access to patient data. Though, it begs the question of whether they should be trusted with such sensitive information.

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In July, Microsoft announced a partnership with Providence St. Joseph Health to build a new high-tech hospital. The move is part of Microsoft’s continued focus on healthcare despite its hospital IT software, Amalga failing to gain traction. Since then, Google has acquired Fitbit and Facebook has been rolling out a new health tab connecting users to doctors. At the same time, Amazon has made several big partnerships and investments in healthcare spanning a $2 million investment in Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for AI tool testing, PillPack, and Amazon Care.

"Digitizing patients' medical histories, laboratory results and diagnoses has created a booming market in which tech giants are looking to store and crunch data, with potential for groundbreaking discoveries and lucrative products," Melanie Evans wrote for the Wall Street Journal.

However, there are growing concerns about what these companies stand to do with our most sensitive data. In an interview with NPR, Ben Moskowitz, director of Consumer Reports Digital Lab suggested this data is at risk of being sold to advertisers. “They want to create a product ecosystem that makes life easy for people just in terms of the functionality they get from these products. You know, in a certain light, the more data that can be collected about a person, the more valuable the insight about that person that can be sold to advertisers.”

While health plans and healthcare providers are governed under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which protects individuals’ medical records and other health information, most health and wellness apps that can be downloaded from the App Store or the Google Play Store are not. “They might claim to be HIPAA-compliant, but unless you read that privacy policy super closely, you might not realize that they're sharing it for all kinds of purposes,” Moskowitz adds.

In April 2018, Modern Healthcare published that providers, health plans and business associated reported 44 data breaches to the federal government, the highest number of healthcare breaches reported in a single month since 2010. So what happens when these big tech and companies riddled by their own sensitive data breaches gain access to our most personal data?

Despite our concerns in the abstract, there is no evidence that any such wrongdoing has happened. Still, these partnerships are only set to grow, as hospitals and providers benefit significantly from such deals. We can only hope that this data remains safe.