Amazon Clinic launches, raising privacy concerns

Amazon is introducing a virtual health care clinic, allowing patients to connect with healthcare providers to get treatment for some ailments. 

Say what you want about Amazon. The company is set to clear $140 billion in its fourth quarter. Its founder Jeff Bezos is one of the richest people in the world. And although it's facing layoffs and antitrust lawsuits, it's as convenient, affordable, and addictive. 

"There are years that I've placed 1,000 or 2,000 orders," cybersecurity expert Joseph Steinberg said.

Steinberg may get most of his groceries and gadgets from the mega retailer but he's drawing the line at its new service launched Tuesday — Amazon Clinic

Amazon Clinic provides virtual care for more than 20 health conditions, ranging from acne to asthma, UTIs to birth control, balding to erectile dysfunction. You click on the condition that's ailing you, choose a provider, answer a questionnaire, and the clinician sends you a personalized treatment plan and prescriptions.

"Will Amazon create a real wall between their medical side and their retail side?" Steinberg said. "Or will there be data that is shared, and we don't know the answer to that question." 

Amazon Clinic is available in 32 states and is only for adults ages 18 to 64. It joins the ranks of similar telehealth companies like HIM & HERS and Teladoc that are growing in popularity.

Telehealth is not only convenient; it helps the uninsured. Amazon Clinic charges a flat fee for services and doesn't take insurance.

"Medical data is sensitive, and it reveals a lot of interesting things about people," Steinberg said. "And that's part of the problem."

Steinberg said he is concerned Amazon could diagnose people and immediately push its pharmacy's prescriptions, giving Amazon an unfair advantage. Amazon might use the data from a patient's questionnaire and blast their devices with related product marketing. And the marketing — for a condition you intended to keep private — could been seen by others in your household. 

Amazon Clinic states on its website that it cares about customer privacy and data security. 

"We have extensive experience protecting data of all kinds appropriately across a variety of businesses and remain focused on the important mission of protecting customers' health information," Amazon Clinic states. "We have stringent customer privacy policies and comply with HIPAA and all other applicable laws and regulations." 

"The question is what is the price that is being paid behind the scenes for that service? That may not be a price that the person using the service pays, but it may be a price that we as a society pay," Steinberg said. "And we may not know until after some time passes and we see what happens."