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Brought to you by the ALA, this is Choose Privacy Week. The UI Library has put together a LibGuide on the subject and its made a few more appearances than usual over at LifeHacker. So its not without a little bit of irony that I stumbled upon GoogleHealth this week. It has apparently been available for over two years, and is touted as a value for

consumers being able to own, use, manage and share their medical data online with whomever they choose. (Official Google Blog)

It works by Google Users manually or electronically importing their health data into the system and then managing it themselves, allowing them to share the data as they see fit (as stated by the Google Blog quote above). It is important to note that GoogleHealth, and other services like it, are not covered under HIPAA privacy laws, so that data has much less legal protection from prying eyes than before it was uploaded.

If you’re interested in learning more without giving Google your own data, Matthew Holt of the Health Care Blog gives a guided tour of GoogleHealth here.

I understand the desire for easily portable health records that are under patient control. I really do. I’ve even argued for them. However, this tool from Google gives me goose bumps. If you are a user, especially an active user, Google already collects a vast amount of data about you. Lets look at some of the potential data you feed them every day, if your account is set just right (or just wrong): your internet search activity, what sites you visit,  your email, your appointments, your documents, your photographs, your location, your movements, your deepest thoughts, and your reading habits. Does Google really need to know your medical history as well?

Before I go any further, let me just say that I use all of those services, except that I have set my account to not log my search or surf activities (trusting that it doesn’t anyway). That said, and not knowing nearly enough about the field of Health Informatics, I feel that this sort of service is best left with someone other than Google as the provider.

Who would you trust with your most personal of personal information? The Government? A health insurance company? Is this data more secure in monolithic databases or scattered to its points of creation?

I go with the later. Just like your bank account, individual hospitals where patients establish a primary care provider could establish web-based patient accounts to an industry standard of security and portability. When a patient changes primary care providers and moves away from that hospital, it would be a simple matter of transferring the data to the new primary care provider’s hospital. I am sure this proposal is overly-simplistic and will be told it can’t be done for reasons x, y, and z, but is it any crazier to think about than turning over control of this data to a search engine company?

Please, think before you act online. If you think and choose to act anyway, be sure to use a VERY strong password.


A post on LISNews from today lists a few alternatives to Google, all created by librarians. The point of these various alternatives is to provide vetted internet search results to users.

While these searches are certainly interesting and may even be good starting points, the can not begin to cover the scope of Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. Simply searching for “University of Illinois” in Infotopia does not bring up the University’s homepage. However, all of the sites listed provide interesting topical browsing functions.

If you haven’t explored such search engines before, you probably should. I’m not recommending any of these – though if you are in need of a safe-search scholastic internet environment, you can do much, much worse.

See today’s article on Slate : “Wait, Who Says My Tweets Belong to Google or the Library of Congress?” by Heidi Moore. Moore seems rather upset that Google is creating a searchable archive of all Tweets. And, in case you missed it, the Library of Congress announced yesterday:

Your 140 characters or less will now be housed in the Library of Congress.

That’s right. Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter’s inception in March 2006, will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. That’s a LOT of tweets, by the way: Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every day, with the total numbering in the billions.

Announcement link here.

Moore is not outraged over privacy, she’s outraged over the ownership implications of this move:

Think for a second, not of a zillion little 140-character bursts of history. Think of the “producers” of that history, and of the slippery slope Google and the Library of Congress are creating for personal rights over any work product. The precedent here might be: If it’s on the Internet, we (Google) own it.

She makes a few pointed jabs along this line and is obviously seething about the issue, calling for Twitter to “inform its users clearly what they were getting into.”

The problem for Moore is that they did.

Everyone who signs up to use Twitter agrees to Twitter’s Terms of Service, which states, in plain English (emphasis added):

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

So, while yes, Heidi, you own your Tweets, you did, however, tell Twitter they could do whatever they want to with them with out further consulting or compensating you.

If that keeps you up at night, see Section 11 of Google’s Terms of Service.

Generally speaking, these are the prices we pay for free services. (See Slate write Chris Thompson.) Also, please, please read the Terms of Service of the service you plan to gripe about on national fora before griping (because I’m sure you didn’t before using the service).

Also, as another Slate writer (Chadwick Matlin) points out,

Heidi, when you write a book—and, come to think of it, you should write a book!—does it end up in the Library of Congress? Yes. Is it still your work when it goes in there? Yes. We’re not talking about Google (GOOG) or the LoC “owning” your intellectual property. We’re talking about archiving it.

Much of this conversation – the outrage, the confusion – stems from our misunderstandings and disagreements about the role born-digital content plays in our society. In this case, Twitter is the publisher, Heidi – and ever other Twitter user – is a writer published by them. When examined from this angle, the case becomes quite clear. The publisher is exercising their distribution rights, the Library of Congress is exercising their rights as a library to collection published works, and Google is exercising its right to form a partnership with a publisher.

As creators of born-digital content, this electronic ephemera and grey literature, users must be aware of these concepts and Terms of Service clauses so that they have at least a partial understanding of their rights and roles as content creators.