Google wants to know if you’re depressed. Partnering with the US National Alliance on Mental Illness Google this week fashioned a tool to allow users to screen for depression. If you Google “depression” on a mobile device you’ll be taken to a“Knowledge Graph” and ultimately on to a Patient Health Questionnaire with nine key questions about depression and your mental health.
Sharing our health information is big business
According to Google 1% of Google searches are symptom related. And personal health search is a big deal according to Pew. In a 2013 analysis of search behavior they discovered that 1 in 3 Americans have gone online to figure out a medical condition. Of those:
- 38% say that it was something they could take care of themselves.
- 41% reported that their diagnosis was confirmed by a medical professional.
- 53% report discussing their findings with a medical professional.
And among those who looked up a condition, 35% did not visit a clinician to get a confirmation. So some have come to trust Google above an individual provider. We think we’re gaming the system.
Or is it gaming us?
Why Google cares about your depression
What Pew does not tell us is there’s no such thing as a free screen … or search. The more you disclose the more Google knows. When we start with the understanding that Google is modern civilization’s greatest advertising platform, it puts depression screening in a very different light.
When we search or use any free platform we make a Faustian bargain – or a deal with the devil. Google knows about us. There is nothing we type that it doesn’t forget. So when you score just right on the depression scale there’s a good chance that you’ll be pitched probiotics for well-being from the Internet Superstore.
And when you search for markers and tumors and testing, you think you’re empowered. Perhaps more empowered is the product manufacturer with a solution to your search. When we search we disclose. Or when we wear a free Apple Watch from our insurance company we expose.
When you look at the coverage of the Google release, many media outlets peddled what Google pitched word-for-word. But when we portray Google as an altruistic body ‘looking to help save just one person with depression,’ it’s disingenuous. We need to understand what’s at stake when we fuel a search engine algorithm with personal health information.
For the average patient using Google, they have no idea that they’re the subject and not the customer.