Google Health launches; Read the terms of service

Google Health has launched for the masses, but watch those terms of usage closely.Google Health, which is expected to officially launch at a Google event today (see Google Webcast, Techmeme and Google Blogoscoped coverage), is now available to the average bear.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Google Health has launched for the masses, but watch those terms of usage closely.

Google Health, which is expected to officially launch at a Google event today (see Google Webcast, Techmeme and Google Blogoscoped coverage), is now available to the average bear. Marissa Meyer, VP search products and user experience, unveiled Google Health, which was was previewed in February, at the company's Search Factory Tour on Monday.

Since Google Health officially launched in what Meyer described as "a very exciting day for us," I figured I'd sign up. However, the terms of usage gave me a little pause. The biggest issue: Typical health information protections--HIPAA--don't apply. During a demo, Google executives said that the user controls the information and the search giant won't share information unless the patient says it's OK. That's a great promise, but it's not HIPAA.

The most notable items:

In the terms of service department:

4. Use of Your Information

If you create, transmit, or display health or other information while using Google Health, you may provide only information that you own or have the right to use. When you provide your information through Google Health, you give Google a license to use and distribute it in connection with Google Health and other Google services. However, Google may only use health information you provide as permitted by the Google Health Privacy Policy, your Sharing Authorization, and applicable law. Google is not a "covered entity" under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and the regulations promulgated thereunder ("HIPAA"). As a result, HIPAA does not apply to the transmission of health information by Google to any third party.

Emphasis added was mine because that's my biggest hangup.

6. Content and Services Accessed through Google Health

Google Health may include content that you find offensive, including health-related content that is sexually explicit.

Google may make third-party services available through Google Health. In order to use a specific service, you may choose to allow the third-party service provider to retrieve, provide, and/or modify health and other information in your account or otherwise share your information with the service provider. Once you enable a specific third-party service provider to access your account, the service provider may continue to access your account until you affirmatively disable access. Third-party service providers include both health care providers and other entities. It is your sole responsibility to review and approve each such third-party service before sharing your information through or otherwise accessing it.

Google may screen, modify, refuse, or remove certain content or third-party services, but is not responsible for and does not endorse any third-party content or services. Google further does not endorse any third-party service providers, other health care providers, products, services, opinions, or web sites accessed through Google Health.

In the sharing authorization department:


I hereby authorize Google to share the health information contained in my Google Health profile(s) in its entirety, to only those entities and individuals I designate, for the purpose of providing me with medical care and for the purpose of sharing my information with others that I choose.

I understand and agree that this authorization permits the disclosure of health or treatment information about me, to the entities and individuals I designate, that may also contain sensitive information relating to the following:


* Mental illness or any mental health condition

* Alcohol or substance abuse

* Sexually transmitted diseases

* Pregnancy

* Abortion or other family planning

* Genetic tests or genetic diseases

Google Health ultimately comes down to trust. And the bottom line is health information has a bigger hurdle to clear. Case in point: I rarely read terms of service from Google. But the health thing got me to read a bit of legalese.

Among other key points:

Google has lined up some serious health care partners, including Quest Diagnostics and Walgreens and CVS. Those partners will allow you to share lab results and prescription information.

Among the other partners:

Update:  Google addresses the HIPAA concerns in a blog post and features a chart outlining the differences between HIPAA and its privacy policy. Anyone sharing health data with Google should read both the post and the explainer on the differences.

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