Frequently Asked Question #1: Why is Google offering Google Health?

May 21st, 2008 by Grace Meng

Everyone must be wondering the same thing I am, as the number one question on the FAQ’s about Google Health is: “Why is Google offering this product?” Related, of course, is Question #6: “If it’s free, how does Google make money off Google Health?”

Unfortunately, the answers aren’t very satisfying.

“It’s what we do. Our corporate mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Health information is very fragmented today, and we think we can help. Google believes the Internet can help users get access to their health information and help people make more empowered and informed health decisions. People already come to Google to search for health information, so we are a natural starting point. In addition, we have a lot of experience storing and managing large amounts of data and developing consumer products that offer a positive and simple user experience.”

I thought their mission, as a corporation, was to maximize profits for their shareholders.

The answer to Question #6 is even worse:

“Much like other Google products we offer, Google Health is free to anyone who uses it. There are no ads in Google Health. Our primary focus is providing a good user experience and meeting our users’ needs.”

But we all know that “other Google products” that are free make money through advertising. And there are “no ads in Google Health”?

In launching Google Health, Google has clearly acknowledged that health information is even more sensitive than the personal information the company has been assiduously collecting up to this point. Although it glosses over the differences between its other applications and Google Health, promising to “conduct our health service with the same privacy, security, and integrity users have come to expect in all our services,” the mere fact that it doesn’t have advertising trumpets that Google is trying to differentiate Google Health from something like Gmail.

But the harder Google tries to assure me that there is no advertising and that the service is free, the harder it is for me to believe there are truly no costs to me. Clearly, there is a real value to providing secure online access to personal health records. Medical records, for the appropriate people, should be accessible, transferable, and plain legible, as anyone who has tried to read a doctor’s handwriting can attest. So why would someone give me something for nothing?

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google is not ruling out advertising in the future, and in the meantime, it hopes Google Health will simply drive more users to Google in general. Perhaps Google itself doesn’t quite know where Google Health will go. But given how easy it is to imagine nightmare scenarios of what can happen with this kind of information, I want the company who’s collecting it and storing it to have a better story about why it’s doing this.

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4 Responses to “Frequently Asked Question #1: Why is Google offering Google Health?”

  1. Mimi Yin says:

    > I thought their mission, as a corporation, was to maximize profits for their shareholders.

    True. Which doesn’t mean corporations can’t also have noble goals, it’s just that they better align with maximizing shareholder value.

    Which brings us back to the question: What is Google getting out of offering me a free health service?

    Perhaps they simply hope to demonstrate the value of such a service and intend to charge me for it once I’ve bought into its utility. For something as sensitive as health records, I want to be the paying customer that’s always right 😉 That would make me much more comfortable than wondering what it is Google is getting out of my “free lunch.”

  2. Sam Prince says:

    I would guess that it’s only free to the consumer and that they will ultimately be charging the healthcare providers a subscription for access.

  3. Hi,
    I would like to contact the VP of Google Health to discuss ideas I have for the front end design for Google Health. Apologies for approaching this in this manner but I was not able to find contact information for those in Google with whom I need to communicate with.

    Jayanth Devasundaram

  4. anton says:

    One way Google could monetize this technology is by selling useful statistics to pharmaceutical companies.Pharmaceutical companies could use these statistics for their competitve advantage.

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