Google’s poor privacy record makes it the last place to put private data, says Tory shadow home secretary turned civil liberties campaigner David Davis
Conservative plans to put NHS data on Google are “mad” according to David Davis, a leading Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary, who resigned and was re-elected last year over civil liberties issues.
“Google is the last company I would trust with data belonging to me,” said Davis in The Times. The company is “hostile to privacy,” he said quoting watchdog Privacy International which said Google was leading a “race to the bottom” in protection for users among Internet firms.
The NHS’s £20 billion central database could be made unnecessary, if users were given the option of storing their records in Google health, according to a paper from the Conservative think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, published in June.
“The policy described was so naive I could only hope that it was an unapproved kite-flying exercise by a young researcher in Conservative HQ,” said Davis. The report’s author Liam Maxwell, a Conservative councillor at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, has backed off from the idea, saying that media stories overstated the idea expressed in his paper.
Davis has a good go at Google, after acknowledging that its monopoly “arises properly from the fact that Google provides a service people want”, and its market capitalisation of $ 130 billion (£79 billion) “represents the value of exploiting its customers’ private data for commercial ends.”
Google is misusing its position, he says, with an “amoral” deal with China, a “high- handed approach to the intrusion on people’s privacy with Streetview,” and a “cavalier approach to European legislation (which it claims does not apply to it)”.
There are good reasons for using private companies to hold NHS data, said Davis, adding another angle to the debate about cloud versus in-house security. Commercial companies, under threat of class-action lawsuits, will try harder to keep data private than public servants who may get a slapped wrist for losing large numbers of records .
“Commercial companies are not perfect, but they have a greater incentive to protect your data,” said Davis.
However, Conservative hopes of putting data on Google for free are demonstrably stupid, because Google’s free services make money through other means: “It should not be possible to make money out of holding health data,” said Davis. “Health information has to be secure, and should not be available to be used for commercial purposes. That means it should not be sold on, it should not be data mined for commercial insights, and it should not be used for targeted advertising.”
Google has not yet replied to our request for a comment.