Amazon closed on its $3.9 billion dollar deal to buy One Medical, a membership-based health care company that offers virtual services and has offices across the country. But the ramifications on patient privacy of a massive retail conglomerate providing health care have many consumers, politicians, and advocacy groups worried.
The buyout, announced in July, went through after the Federal Trade Commission decided against suing to stop the purchase. Still, the FTC, which reviewed the deal and what it could mean for both competition and consumers for eight months, said it plans to continue its investigation.
The function of a rational health care system is to provide quality care to all in a cost-effective way, not make billionaires like Jeff Bezos even richer. At a time of growing concentration of ownership, the Justice Department must deny Amazon's acquisition of One Medical. https://t.co/ekpJdTbf2N— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) July 21, 2022
Since the deal was announced, many have sounded an alarm about Amazon, a retail behemoth, getting more involved in the health care business. For those who believe affordable, quality health care is a right and not a privilege, having your doctor's checks signed by Amazon seems like a huge step backward, especially for patient privacy.
Amazon will now have access to data on what we watch, read, eat, buy, ask Alexa, pharmaceuticals, and now primary care. There are some limits on data usage but not enough. Consumers need to be able to control their data. #dataprivacy #Amazon #onemedical https://t.co/2wBSBbrtYI— Elizabeth Rothman (Shubov) (@liztechlex) July 21, 2022
"Allowing Amazon to control the health care data for another 700,000+ individuals is terrifying," said Krista Brown, a senior policy analyst at the American Economic Liberties Project, in a statement from the anti-monopoly advocacy group. The deal "will also pose serious risks to patients whose sensitive data will be captured by a firm whose own Chief Information Security Office once described access to customer data as ‘a free for all.'"
What Amazon could potentially do with access to your health care data is start showing you targeted ads for products related to any number of health conditions, or even suggest weight loss reality shows on Prime Video if you're overweight. And since Amazon owns its own online pharmacy service, it can make money off the medications its doctors prescribe to you. Less savvy internet and media users, including senior citizens on Medicare, might not be aware of this exploitative use of data is happening.
When asked whether patient health care data from One Medical would be accessible to Amazon for targeted advertising or marketing purposes, the company said it follows Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which allows it to market products based on customers’ personal health information.
It's no doubt perfectly fine & not at all nightmarishly dystopic that Amazon has just acquired my family's healthcare provider. I welcome the chance to funnel 20% of my salary into Jeff Bezos's pocket in exchange for one free "wellness checkup" per year. https://t.co/rprCK1DUAV— Dana Stevens (@thehighsign) February 22, 2023
When the deal was announced in July, Amazon said in a statement that "One Medical customers’ HIPAA Protected Health Information will be handled separately from all other Amazon businesses." But Amazon also said: "As required by law, Amazon will never share One Medical customers’ personal health information outside of One Medical for advertising or marketing purposes of other Amazon products and services without clear permission from the customer."
From that statement, it could be gleaned that Amazon plans to seek One Medical patients' permission to use their medical data to sell them things. Some Amazon users may unwittingly give permission by checking a box without reading the fine print or knowing the implications of their actions. To many, that's edging too close to a dystopian future where privacy no longer exists and patients' rights are eroded so that corporations can make more money.