Google co-founder and chief executive Larry Page believes that the fear of data-mining within the healthcare industry is costing as many as 100,000 lives per year.
Responding to fears over the vast amount of personal information held by Google, a topic recently brought to the fore by the ‘right to be forgotten‘ ruling from the EU’s High Court, Page suggested that his company had not gone too far. In fact, he suggested that Google has not gone far enough at all.
Speaking to Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times, he said:
“For me, I’m so excited about the possibilities to improve things for people, my worry would be the opposite. We get so worried about these things that we don’t get the benefits. Right now we don’t data-mine healthcare data. If we did we’d probably save 100,000 lives next year.”
Page was speaking after the conclusion of Google’s I/O developers’ conference on Wednesday, during which the company demonstrated a new design for its Android operating system, as well as its offshoot – Android Wear – for smartwatches.
In keeping with that new technology, Google also introduced Google Fit, its new health and fitness tracking platform. Mobile devices, including the new raft of smartwatches, will be able to utilise sensors to share health data with apps that will be able to monitor a user’s weight, workout plan and eating habits in much the same way as Apple’s HealthKit that was announced earlier this month.
“I think technology is changing people’s lives a lot, and we’re feeling it,” Page told Manjoo, before arguing that many people have an instinctively negative view toward new technology – until they actually see it in action – at which point they realise it isn’t scary as they first thought:
“In the early days of Street View, this was a huge issue, but it’s not really a huge issue now. People understand it now and it’s very useful . And it doesn’t really change your privacy that much. A lot of these things are like that.”
The keynote speech wasn’t the resounding success that Google had perhaps hoped for though as it featured two separate protests.
The first focused upon the company’s ownership of Boston Dynamics, a robotics company which has an association with the US military’s R&D wing Darpa. The second surrounded Google’s role in the gentrification of San Francisco.
Google’s Head of Android, Chrome and Google Apps Sunder Pichai, who led the keynote speech, said:
“I think in some ways it’s good that there’s an open debate about it and I think we needed it. There’s been a lot of growth and the area is trying to adapt to that growth and that has been a concern.”
I personally agree with Pichai’s comments, namely that far more open debate is required. The scope for improving healthcare by sharing vast amounts of data from millions of people is huge.
But, and its a massive but, such data should rightfully remain private in my view. Not only is someone’s medical condition a sensitive topic but it can also be a costly one.
With Google hardly being synonymous with privacy, and having shareholders to satisfy, I certainly wouldn’t want the company to know any more about me than it already does.
More than that, can you imagine the consequences of having your entire medical history stored in a central database?
Imagine going to your GP and being offered new (and expensive) drugs (sponsored by Google?) for that condition that has been bugging you for years. Or how about having your medical insurance premiums hiked, or policies revoked, because you had an operation in the past? Or what about surfing the web and being met with adverts tailored to your personal profile, offering third-party treatments from unlicensed medical practitioners (because, after all, making money from targeted ads is Google’s business model)? And what happens if the database containing your medical details is breached and the contents uploaded to a site like Pastebin?
Anything that potentially improves the health of millions of people around the world should be considered, but lets not forget that everything comes with a cost, one way or another.