Fearing Google

Fearing Google

I’m more worried than ever about the danger Google represents to medical privacy (and privacy in general). And I’m not reassured at all after reading Google chief reassures on data leak in the International Herald Tribune. AOL screwed up recently by posting a database of supposedly anonymized search records to be studied by academic researchers. The company removed the AOL screen name but left everything else. Somehow they didn’t realize that the search information itself is more than enough to identify individuals and to learn about them.

People are concerned enough about their electronic medical records being released. Those records have some private information –test results, prescribing history, and so on. But those records are nothing compared to the trail people leave when they spend their days searching Google. If, for example someone got hold of an HIV patient’s medical record they could learn that the person had AIDS, what drugs they were taking, and their diagnostic test results. If that same individual’s Google searches were analyzed, we might learn the names of his sexual partners, symptoms he’s searched, products he’s looked for, movies he’s viewed, and on and on.

Google keeps all the information on your searches forever, and associates them with your IP address. Be careful how you use Google. In particular, consider disabling cookies.

August 14, 2006

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