Google hits back at Tory NHS records slur


Google is fighting back against claims it shouldn't be allowed to hold public health records.

Yesterday, Conservative MP David Davis argued in an article in the Times newspaper against his own party's plans to use Google Health to manage NHS records, calling the idea "mad" and telling Google to stay away.

Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel, responded in a blog post, saying the search giant was "surprised and disappointed" by the "vitriolic column".

Fleishcer said Davis' column was "riddled with misleading statements," saying the politician didn't bother to check his facts before launching his "extraordinary attack."

"The important work of education is made more difficult by polemicists who abuse the truth," Fleischer said. "We are happy to debate our privacy record or policies anytime, but we'd rather that debate was based on fact not fiction."

Fleischer added that the service in question - Google Health - isn't even available in the UK. It's limited to the US, and Google isn't planning on bringing it to other markets anytime soon.

Fleishcer also responded to Davis' comments on Google's approach to personal privacy an issue it is frequently criticised over defending its Street View photo mapping service and pointing out that the firm got permission from the Information Commissioner before launching in the UK.

Google was forced to again defend what Davis called the "amoral deal" with China the firm's agreement to censor search according to the government's wishes.

"As we said when we launched, it wasn't a step we took lightly, but we felt we were doing it for the right reasons - to bring more information to more people," Fleischer wrote. "Where Chinese regulations require us to remove sensitive information from our search results we disclose this to users - which is not standard practice in China."

However, the main thrust of Davis' argument against using Google for public records was that the search firm makes its cash by "exploiting customers' private data" something he felt shouldn't happen with sensitive health records.

"Google makes the vast majority of its revenue by providing users with free services and serving ads targeted to what the user has searched for or has read. This does not involve selling user data or exposing it in any way," Fleischer said.

"If managed and used responsibly, the free services Google offers can be of tremendous civic benefit," he added, citing previous work done by the firm to help track flu trends and assist after natural disasters.

With Google Health, the firm does not sell off an individual's data, but does aggregate it to look for trends.

A Google spokesperson told IT PRO: "It's right that there is a robust debate between and within political parties about how patients can be given more control over their personal data, but we hope this debate can be conducted without taking inaccurate sideswipes at companies who have good track records on privacy."