Privacy backlash halts Amazon project – Politico
A planned 50-state launch of tech giant Amazon’s live-video US telemedicine service has been postponed for at least three weeks in response to concern from lawmakers over its privacy practices, Politico reported on Friday, citing an email from an inside source.
The nationwide launch of Amazon Clinic, initially scheduled for Tuesday, is reportedly delayed, with the promotional campaign announcing the expansion now scheduled for July 19, according to the email.
While the current incarnation of Amazon Clinic, available in 33 states, requires the patient to fill out a form to request medical treatment, the next stage would provide treatment via live video. Lawmakers fear it would also invade patients' privacy.
Democrat senators Peter Welch and Elizabeth Warren questioned whether Amazon Clinic "may be harvesting consumer health data from patients" under its extremely permissive user agreement in a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy last week.
Citing a recent report in the Washington Post, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the senators note that customers seeking to enroll in Amazon’s health platform must authorize "complete" access to their health information, which may then be "re-disclosed," eliminating the legal protections normally afforded by federal healthcare privacy law. While Amazon has said it does not "use customer data for purposes that customers haven’t consented to," it was less than forthcoming about what purposes it does plan to use that data for when asked by the reporter.
The senators ordered Amazon to provide a sample contract between the tech giant and third-party healthcare providers, as well as an "itemized list of patient health data," including which data is shared with subsidiaries like Amazon's advertising arm and with other third parties. The company must also explain whether and how the data is used for analytic, algorithmic, marketing, product development, law enforcement, or financial purposes by the end of the month, the letter states, adding a pointed reference to a legal settlement with another telemedicine provider who got greedy with patients’ data.
While a spokesperson denied there was any "delay as a result of an external inquiry" in the Amazon Clinic rollout, the senators expressed hope that the launch postponement was "a sign that Amazon has taken our concerns about data collection and use practices seriously."
Amazon shuttered its previous telemedicine service, Amazon Care, last year after launching a partnership with telemedicine firm Teladoc to connect users to medical professionals using its digital assistant Alexa.
Despite defending its privacy policies, Amazon - and especially Alexa - has become notorious for violating them. Employees have listened in on private moments captured by Alexa, home security systems, and other Amazon devices as standard policy, even as users were told their data was secure.