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Big Revolution - Giving away a treasure trove of health data

Welcome to Wednesday's Big Revolution. Let's dive straight in... — Martin from Big Revolution
July 10 · Issue #467 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Wednesday’s Big Revolution. Let’s dive straight in…
— Martin from Big Revolution

Big things you need to know today
  • Microsoft Teams is proving way more popular than rival Slack. Being bundled with Microsoft’s suite for businesses, and thus costing no more money, is a key factor in Teams’ success, despite it not being as strong a product.
  • Got Zoom for Mac? Update it. The video conferencing software maker has now released a patch after initially discounting a security flaw as ‘low risk,’ despite the fact it could lead to Mac users’ webcams getting activated by hackers.
  • Facebook is ready to get experimental with new apps from a new team called NPE (‘New Product Experimentation’). The first app could launch within weeks. The company used to experiment a lot more but hasn’t launched a new app in quite a while.
The big thought
Credit: Andres Urena on Unsplash
Credit: Andres Urena on Unsplash
Giving away a treasure trove of health data
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock is a self-professed tech geek who offers an app for his constituents and has previously endorsed remote healthcare startup Babylon Health, so it’s no surprise that he was celebrating headlines like “Amazon Alexa offering NHS health advice” today.
As the BBC reports:
Under the partnership, Amazon’s algorithm uses information from the NHS website to provide answers to questions such as, “How do I treat a migraine?” and, “What are the symptoms of chickenpox?”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was right for the NHS to “embrace” technology in this way, predicting it would reduce pressure on “our hard-working GPs and pharmacists”.
“We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare,” he added.
So there’s nothing particularly hi-tech happening here. The Alexa skill simply searches the NHS Choices website in response to health queries, and returns the most relevant result. This may be useful for some people but it won’t revolutionise healthcare. Still, you can see why it’s been done — making healthcare information as accessible as possible is ostensibly an honourable goal.
The real story here is how this has been rolled out with little public scrutiny as to what will happen to the data.
The BBC again:
Amazon told the Times that it did not share information with third parties, nor does it build a profile on customers.
A spokesman said: “All data was encrypted and kept confidential. Customers are in control of their voice history and can review or delete recordings.”
Okay, but Amazon stores all Alexa queries indefinitely unless you choose to delete them, and it has been getting into the US healthcare market in a significant way. The company has even patented a method of detecting if you’re sick from the sound of your voice — a great way of then selling you a cure.
But why does Amazon need that technology if it just has people straight up telling them its symptoms?
I fear the NHS has sleepwalked into helping Amazon collect a treasure trove of British people’s health data that may not be used today, but could easily be useful in the future. And the fact the government didn’t address potential public concern upfront as part of the announcement indicates that privacy wasn’t a high enough priority in the project, or that they didn’t anticipate people would be concerned at all. Either possibility is a real worry.
One big read
What if Being a YouTube Celebrity Is Actually Backbreaking Work? What if Being a YouTube Celebrity Is Actually Backbreaking Work?
Just reading this article made me feel exhausted, but Emma Chamberlain is a real talent.
One big tweet
A game inspired by early-20th century animation is set to become an animation itself…
Studio MDHR
Coming to you in full color and cine-sound, it's...The Cuphead Show! Witness the wondrous Inkwell Isles as you've never seen them before in an original series inspired by classic animation styles of the 1930s. Now in production by the talented team at @Netflix Animation!
2:00 PM - 9 Jul 2019
That’s all for today...
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