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Google’s foray into health care invites privacy questions

November 13, 2008 by  

Google raises privacy concerns once againGoogle is making news with its highly-touted flu tracking project, but when it comes to privacy issues, this may be just the tip of the iceberg.

The new Google Flu Trends function keeps track of nationwide searches involving the flu, with the goal of providing a quick snapshot of which parts of the country are experiencing outbreaks.

On the Flu Trends website, the search engine notes that an early version of this program was used last winter, and was able to provide flu estimates up to two weeks faster than existing Center for Disease Control and Prevention methods.

"In theory at least, this idea can be used for any disease and any health problem," said Dr. Joseph Bresee of the CDC.

Google’s flu project does not collect individual user data. However, privacy advocates may be far more concerned by this week’s report of a test program in Arizona where patients will be asked to store their medical records on Google and other websites. The goal of this program is to make it easier for patients to provide their records during emergency room visits or when switching doctors.

However, the Arizona Republic points out that the federal HIPAA medical privacy law only applies to actual health care providers, not third parties like Google.

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