Google announced the start of a pilot project to test its own electronic health records storage platform. The same privacy concerns that arise when considering Microsoft’s HealthVault solution apply here: How is the data stored? Is it encrypted? Who can access it? Etc.

In their announcement, Google promises: “Above all, health data will remain yours — private and confidential. Only you have control over when to share it with family members and health providers.” This is similar to the assurances Microsoft made to me, but Google provides no details.

A key concern is whether and how Google plans to monetize this service. Will sponsored ads be inserted? Will there be a search component? Will user activity be tracked to provide personalized services and advertising?

Google, if you want to meet and discuss, you know how to find me.

[Fred Stutzman and Eric Jennings have more thoughts]

UPDATE:  Fred Stutzman asks good questions in the comments below, which I try to reply to. I feel they’re important enough to add to the main post, for those reading via RSS.

Fred says:

I would like to know specifically:

1) If Google plans to sell targeted ads based on records
2) Google plans to integrate the health records into the Google cross-service profile. That is, will my gmail now know I have asthma if I elect to participate.

My reply:

1) I suspect they might, although they’re probably not under as much pressure to monetize the service as Microsoft is. The key issue will be to what extent are ads personally targeted based on one’s health data, or one’s health-related search query, or one’s clickstream data on the health site.

2) I suspect that in terms of “live” processing, the answer will be no. When ads are served to you on Gmail or a SERP, I doubt they’ll ping your health data to help personalize them. However, presumably a Google Account will be needed to use the health service (they like to require that for everything, even their muni-wi-fi proposals), which does mean such a linkage can be made if necessary (business decision, subpoenas, etc)

I hope we can get more information soon.

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