Google, Genetics, and Your Privacy

googledna2.gifHas Google finally stepped over the “Do No Evil” line?

Over the past few months, Google has invested in two DNA-mapping companies: 23andMe (a company created by Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s wife) and Navigenics, which maps genetic data and screens for anomalies. In theory, information of a predisposition towards a certain disease could be made available to a physician so they could monitor a patient’s health more specifically.

This touches many nerve-endings, including privacy, data retention policy, HIPAA, and healthy distrust of a large corporation dedicated to exposing data about people to advertisers.

As Google says on its corporate info page, “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” But when that includes information about the blueprint that uniquely identifies you, made available to those who would benefit from additional information about your past, present and future, have they gone too far?

According to Business Week:

Google’s forays into gene-screening technologies “might say more about Google and its corporate governance and this particular niche of the biotechnology area than about Google as a company,” says Scott Kessler, a Standard & Poor’s equity analyst who covers Google. (S&P, like BusinessWeek, is owned by The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP).) Brin and partner Larry Page “have interests far beyond the Internet search business and even the online media business.”

The news of Google’s investment comes as the genetics screening firm wraps up a nearly two-week product launch with panel discussions and a public storefront in Manhattan’s chic SoHo section. Harnessing star power, big names in finance and politics—not to mention a little boost from an Internet powerhouse—Navigenics hopes its new Health Compass will become the breakthrough tool to usher in a new era of personalized, preventative health care.

I don’t buy it. This is all about the most intrusive method yet conceived of selling advertising, not about helping people. That could be done with a charitable foundation. If Microsoft were doing this, wouldn’t there be alarms going off in your head?

Imagine one day, after joining something fancifully called, you begin to notice that all the ads presented to you on searches and in high-traffic sites are pitching pharmaceuticals dealing with hypertension and diabetes (didn’t Aunt Betsy have that?). Egad.

Follow the money. This isn’t about helping people, it’s about cracking the healthcare advertising industry. When you consider all the possible leaks — intentional or not — of this type of information in the internet cloud, you must ask yourself if “do no evil” has just taken a Valium.

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