Google is looking at providing information services to employers to help them control their healthcare costs.
To put that into English, Google will collect enormous amounts of data about its clients employees in order flag people who are engaging in “Unhealthy Lifestyles” and mitigate employer exposure to healthcare costs.
Basically, they will spy on employees, and provide information that employers can use to meddle in their employees eat, when they sleep, etc.
And, though Google (Alphabet) will deny it, employers will use this data to fire employees who are flagged as healthcare cost risks.
If you want a picture of the Google’s future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever:*
Without much fanfare, Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences unit, has launched Coefficient Insurance. It was only a matter of time before Google’s parent got into the health insurance business — in fact, one wonders what took it so long. With Google’s intimate knowledge of our daily patterns, contacts and dreams, the search engine group has for years had a far better picture of risk than any insurer.
That Coefficient Insurance, which is also backed by Swiss Re, would initially focus on the relatively arcane area of stop-loss insurance to protect employers from staff health cost volatility should not obscure its ambitious agenda for the rest of the industry. Thus, according to Verily’s senior management, it might soon start monitoring at-risk employees via their smartphones and even coaching them towards healthier lifestyles.
As with many services out of Silicon Valley, there is not much reflection about the probable reconfigurations of power among social groups — the sick and the healthy, the insured and the uninsured, the employers and the employees — that are likely to occur once the digital dust settles.
One would need to be extremely naive to believe that a more extensive digital surveillance system — in the workplace and, with Alphabet running the show, now also at home, in the car and wherever your smartphone takes you — is likely to benefit the weak and the destitute. Some good might come out of it — a healthier workplace, maybe — but we should also inquire who would bear the cost of this digital utopia.
Privacy law does not offer an adequate solution either. Under pressure from employers, most workers acquiesce to being monitored. This was obvious even before Alphabet’s foray into insurance, as plenty of smaller players have been pitching employers sophisticated workplace surveillance systems as a way of lowering healthcare costs.
If this does not scare the hell out of you, you have not been paying attention.
*Apologies to George Orwell.