Consumer Confidential: This California bill would protect our medical data from Big Tech (Hi, Amazon!)

David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

There’s a race on between the tech industry and lawmakers over your medical privacy.

Big Tech is moving as fast as it can to embed its increasingly intrusive devices into people’s homes before policymakers can summon the political will to put much-needed consumer protections into place.

The latest example of such intrusiveness, as I reported last week, is Amazon receiving federal approval to equip its Alexa devices with radar sensors capable of “capturing motion in a three-dimensional space.”

The idea, according to the company, is to monitor your sleep “with a higher degree of resolution and location precision than would otherwise be achievable” using a wearable device such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit.

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor at American University who focuses on privacy issues, told me this unprecedented level of bedroom surveillance is “as creepy as Silicon Valley gets.”

It’s also exactly what California Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Arcadia, is hoping to rein in with a bill now making its way through the state Senate.


His legislation, AB 1436, would amend California’s Confidentiality of Medical Information Act to require that any business collecting and receiving health-related data receive upfront written permission from customers.

“These tech companies are after all sorts of personal medical information — your heart rate, your blood pressure, your sleep habits,” Chau told me. “As it stands, they’re circumventing medical privacy laws.”

That’s because existing laws apply to “healthcare providers,” which the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google are not, even though they’re among the businesses most eager to latch on to, and make use of, your medical data.

Chau, who has been trying to get variations of AB 1436 passed for years, originally wrote the latest iteration of his bill to explicitly designate any company collecting medical information as a healthcare provider.


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