Tech companies see health data as a huge opportunity, but people don't trust them

  • Only 11 percent of people were willing to share their health data with a tech company like Amazon or Facebook, according to a new survey from Rock Health.
  • People are more trusting of the federal government, insurers, big pharma and especially, their doctor.
  • Among tech companies, the most trusted is Google, while IBM is the least.
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook

The average American would rather share their health data with pharmaceutical companies, health insurers and the government than with tech companies like Amazon and Facebook.

That's according to the latest results of a new survey of 4,000 diverse participants from Rock Health, which conducts research and invests in health tech companies.

The survey, conducted in the fall of 2018, asked people who they'd be willing to share health data with. Tech companies came in at the bottom:

  • My doctor: 72% willing to share
  • My health insurer: 49%
  • My pharmacy: 47%
  • Research institution: 35%
  • Pharmaceutical company: 20%
  • Government organization: 12%
  • Tech company: 11%

This is the fourth year that Rock Health has released survey results.

This year, Rock Health dug a little deeper into the opinions of that 11 percent who said they'd share health info with a tech company to find out which companies they trusted most. The most trusted company among them was Google, while IBM brought up the rear:

  • Google: 60%
  • Amazon: 53%
  • Microsoft: 51%
  • Apple: 49%
  • Samsung: 46%
  • Facebook: 40%
  • IBM: 34%

The results stood out to Rock Health director of research Megan Zweig. She had expected Apple, which took an early bet on privacy, to score higher than it did.

But the overall lack of trust in big tech wasn't a surprise. Zweig said tech companies have consistently scored lower than health companies, physicians and even the federal government when it comes to consumer trust for health data. This year's result isn't notably worse previous years, despite the recent slew of privacy scandals that rocked Facebook and other tech companies.

But consumer trust has come down overall, which Zweig chalks up to "concerns with the tech industry that might have spilled over" to the health sector.

That's in line with recent statements from Anne Wojcicki, CEO of DNA-testing company 23andMe. At a conference this week, she theorized that slower-than-expected sales of her company's DNA tests might be due to user privacy concerns, and more specifically the "effect" from Facebook.

In other words, all these Facebook scandals might not be affecting Facebook's bottom line, as many people are hooked on the service and they lack an alternative. But as tech companies push into new areas where alternatives already exist and trust is valued at a premium, these privacy scandals could have far-reaching effects.

A final surprise in the survey: More people than previous years are using the new wearable technologies from companies like Apple, Fitbit and Samsung to manage their chronic medical conditions. Just 20 percent did so in 2017, with most opting to use them for exercise and weight loss, but now that number has increased to 30 percent. Zweig said that is likely due to the recent improvements these companies have made in positioning their technologies for sicker, older Americans.

Check out the full survey here.

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