No limits on Alexa for accessing health data of UK citizens

No limits on Alexa for accessing health data of UK citizens

The agreement between the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and eCommerce giant Amazon — for a health material licensing partnership involving its Alexa voice AI — has been unconfined following a Freedom of Information request. The government proclaimed the partnership. But the date on the contract, which was printed on the gov.uk contracts finder site months after the FOI was filed, displays the open-ended setting to funnel nipped-and-tucked health info from the NHS’ website to Alexa users in audio form was written back in December 2018. The agreement is between the UK government and Amazon US (Amazon Digital Services, Delaware) — instead of Amazon.

Nor is it a normal NHS Choices content syndication contract. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed the legal agreement utilizes an Amazon contract template. She informed us the department had worked together with Amazon to adapt the template to fit the intended use — i.e. admission to publicly funded healthcare material from the NHS’s website.

The NHS does make the same data freely available on its website, of course. As well as via API — to some 1,500 administrations. Amazon is not just any organization; It’s an influential US platform giant with a massive eCommerce business.

The contract mirrors that power imbalance; not being a standard NHS content syndication agreement — but rather DHSC tweaking Amazon’s typical terms.