There is a lot of noise around the Alexa/NHS partnership right now. The idea is that those who have an Alexa device (from Amazon) will be able to access official NHS advice from the NHS web pages via a Google search, in order to take better control of their health.
Handing over your personal health data to Amazon via Alexa won’t sit well with a lot of people. The government hopes this initiative will reduce the demand on human doctors, however, some are saying that the use of technology is papering over the cracks of a creaking NHS.
In April 2019 it was reported in the Guardian that 21 contracts were out to tender by the NHS offering £127m of contracts to private companies despite health secretary pledging: ‘No privatisation on my watch’. These figures were revealed by House of Commons Library analysis. Who is the Alexa/NHS partnership is profiting? With regards to data privacy, Amazon says multiple layers of authentication would protect the data from UK customers and that all information would be encrypted.
For those that can afford Alexa, they may have quick access in finding answers to a health issue they have. But therein lies a problem, not everyone can afford an Alexa.
Some are against self-diagnosis, but even without this partnership, people look up their symptoms on the Internet and self-diagnose before going to the doctor. On top of that, Amazon argues that customers are already asking Alexa medical advice, so wouldn’t you prefer that advice to come from NHS sources rather than just “the internet”? If something goes wrong because of the advice given, who is legally liable? If I ask Alexa for some medical advice and it fails to diagnose a serious underlying condition and I die, would Alexa, Amazon, NHS or me be liable?
We have already seen the rise in online real-time GP services so that you can have your GP appointment remotely via video appointments with outsourced private services such as Babylon Health, Push Doctor and Now GP. Will we see more partnerships between tech giants and the NHS?
What Happens to Your Data?
Those who use Alexa devices may or may not know that their data is stored. The transcripts get deleted but the voice recording stays. Amazon also sells your data on to third parties.
In relation to this partnership, Amazon said that it would not sell products or make product recommendations based on the data collected as part of the NHS partnership. The firm also confirmed that it would not build a health profile of users who asked Alexa health-related questions. But at the end of the day, this is personal sensitive data being held by a foreign company that’s both a defence contractor and targeted advertiser. This partnership has split experts’ opinion.