Google launched Google Health today, and we think this is another significant datapoint in an interesting trend. Essentially, Google Health lets you import your health records (both by populating a database and by scanning extant records) then allows you to manipulate your data to research conditions or hospitals as well as track drug interactions and dosing regimens. The potental value is huge – individuals could control the content and portability of their own medical records. This service isn’t exactly groundbreaking; Intel, Microsoft, GE Health, have their own Patient Health Record (PHR) systems, and a host of other firms like CapMed, Medkey and WebMD have similar systems. What makes this different is that Google is doing it.
However you feel about Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto, people already trust Google with heaps of their personal data, and most people understand that Google retains and repurposes their personal data. People trust Google in a way they do not trust other companies. Perhaps this is because Google seems genuinely interested in offering services, mostly for free, that actually make people’s lives easier. It is at this intersection between trust and functionality where things get interesting, and where we see a trend in consumer behavior that could affect how market researchers do their job.
Although consumers seemed inured to ubiquitous data collection, medical records light up a emotional warning beacon brighter than other types of personal data. So, if Google Health succeeds, it will further demonstrate consumers’ increasing desire to control their personal data in order to get something back from corporations hungry for that data. There is a serious imbalance between what companies know about consumers versus how consumers can leverage their own data to their own benefit. The imbalance is caused by the cost associated with collecting the vast amounts of data companies need to make business decisions. If consumers could offer companies that data themselves, on an ad hoc basis, would companies still need to pay giant aggregators for that data? The need to interpret the data will never disappear, but how companies acquire that data and the value they have to offer in exchange for it may change.