If ever there was a red flag story about Amazon’s Alexa then this is it.
If you watch the “Alexa for Medical Care Advice” video posted above, you will hear Alexa asking Peggy, to “tell me about the symptoms or problems that are troubling you the most.”
Divulging your health issues to a private corporation is extremely troubling as you will see.
Let’s start with the obvious concerns and talk about something you will not see in the video.
Like Peggy telling Alexa, it is none of Amazon’s business what her health concerns are and Alexa should stop listening to everything she says.
But many Americans do not have an issue with Alexa listening to their everyday conversations and have no problem asking Alexa health questions. Because, ‘they have nothing to hide’ and there-in lies the problem.
I challenge anyone to walk up to a stranger while recording the conversation and ask them about their health issues and see what happens. And if you really want to see what happens ask them about their kids health issues etc. Would anyone like to guess what their response will be?
So if a stranger refuses to discuss their personal health issues with someone they do not know, why on earth would they trust Amazon?
Earlier this month, Amazon officially introduced “Alexa Healthcare Skills” which transmits and receives personal healthcare information.
But Alexa Healthcare does much more than just transmit and receive healthcare information.
Alexa can now call pharmacies, spy on kids and your blood sugar.
- Express Scripts (a leading Pharmacy Services Organization): Members can check the status of a home delivery prescription and can request Alexa notifications when their prescription orders are shipped.
- Cigna Health Today (by Cigna, the global health service company): Eligible employees with one of Cigna’s large national accounts can now manage their health improvement goals and increase opportunities for earning personalized wellness incentives.
- My Children’s Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) (by Boston Children’s Hospital, a leading children’s hospital): Parents and caregivers of children in the ERAS program at Boston Children’s Hospital can provide their care teams updates on recovery progress and receive information regarding their post-op appointments.
- Swedish Health Connect (by Providence St. Joseph Health, a healthcare system with 51 hospitals across 7 states and 829 clinics): Customers can find an urgent care center near them and schedule a same-day appointment.
- Atrium Health (a healthcare system with more than 40 hospitals and 900 care locations throughout North and South Carolina and Georgia): Customers in North and South Carolina can find an urgent care location near them and schedule a same-day appointment.
- Livongo (a leading consumer digital health company that creates new and different experiences for people with chronic conditions): Members can query their last blood sugar reading, blood sugar measurement trends, and receive insights and Health Nudges that are personalized to them.
A few reasons to be concerned about Amazon Healthcare:
1.) Alexa is a for-profit corporation that makes its money by putting listening devices inside people’s homes.
Yesterday, Bloomberg revealed that a global team of Amazon workers is listening to people’s conversations.
“Amazon.com Inc. employs thousands of people around the world to help improve the Alexa digital assistant powering its line of Echo speakers. The team listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices.”
An article in the Medium warns; Amazon listens to everything.
“Imagine your horror as you open the attachments and begin listening to the recordings: A discussion of what to have for dinner, two children arguing over a toy, a woman talking to her partner as she gets into the shower.”
2.) Besides the obvious privacy concerns of putting Alexa in your home, Alexa can be easily hacked and turned into an eavesdropping device.
“When the attack [succeeds], we can control Amazon Echo for eavesdropping and send the voice data through network to the attacker.”
3.) Amazon’s Healthcare partners act as though listening to people’s conversations is an act of benevolence.
“We believe voice technology, like Alexa, can make it easy for people to stay on the right path by tracking the status of their mail order prescription,” said Mark Bini, Vice President of Innovation and Member Experience, Express Scripts.
Mark Bini got one thing right, helping “people stay on the right path” will mean an increase in corporate profits as they data mine everything you and your family say.
Cigna’s claim that divulging your personal health issues to Alexa, allows customers to receive ” personalized wellness incentives for meeting their health goals” is just another way of saying corporate spying.
“Personalized wellness incentives” is corporate jargon for sending you advertising or increasing your health insurance premiums.
Amazon did not become the most valuable company in the world by helping people. The only reason why Amazon and its partners care about your healthcare is so they can profit from it.