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New Google Co-Op for Health

Google has created clusters of online discussion format called Co-ops.

The Co-op is about “sharing expertise” (source: Google Co-Op website), I assume from whoever feel they have expertise to share. A Google employee posted general criteria about what posts would be stricken from a Co-op group:

  • The posting of commercial advertisements or other promotional material
  • Spamming/excessive multi-posting
  • Chain letters
  • Binary (non-text) postings
  • Forgery of another user’s identity

(Source: Thread ID c603a0b6578b735a)

Currently,”significant contributors” to Google Co-Op’s Health topic National Library of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health On The Net Foundation, Harvard Medical School, Mayo Clinic, University of California San Francisco, and Kaiser Permanente.

Contributors help create topic “labels” and how topics may be ranked and filtered.

One discussion topic about what Google has embarked upon focused on link or information relevance. An idea is to have a voting system much like Amazon’s star system of product reviews (and those reviews also get votes, which I like). Another idea is to enable “remove results” for information that people may object to.

Kevin is a patient who made a pertinent observation about Google Health’s enormous responsibility:

“Up until now Google could dissavow itself from’playing doctor,’ but now someone is.”

Even citizen-driven efforts become labor intensive on the back-end. Companies like Google still need to make money to employ people who provide technical support or improve the platform. I can see text ads coming into these platforms the way I see strips of google ad words across my Gmail and along the right hand columns. Google Groups already run these ads on the right hand side, and the Health Co-op uses the same platform and inherits ad display formatting.

googlehealth.png (Click on picture to enlarge)

I run Google Adsense on this site and do watch out for ads I need to exclude because of questionable or unsafe claims. This can be very labor intensive – to watch over this site like a hawk.

Here are two questions I have about this initiative:

  1. Who’s in charge of filtering out advertisement sponsors who want to sell Google colloidal silver to cure rare cancers?
  2. What standards – other than citizens’ own opinions and biases – exist to qualify certain information to be trustworthy?

Additional: Readers of British Medical Journal sound off.

Conflict of Interest and Disclaimer: This site runs Google Adsense and therefore derives nominal (less than $1000/year) financial benefit from these ads.


# 2006-5-12 @ 1:05:26 pm by Dr. Robert Lamberts, M.D.

Understand that Google’s main purpose in this is not for providing healthcare, but for making money off of health information. The quality of the content of that information is not as much of a concern to them and it is not in the business’ best interest to filter (from a financial standpoint).

I always raise my eyebrows when I see a non-medical company saying “I can do medicine better than the medical community.” There business is built on providing information, but not so much content. That is OK with other fields (although a lot of scams have been propogated by Google), but in medicine it can be harmful. The question to me is whether the medical community will embrace it at all, or if it will be left on the consumer side of things.

Heck, the medical journals have a hard time keeping the integrity of their information – I think there is very little chance that Google will succeed at filtering their content to a useful level.

# 2006-5-12 @ 3:05:29 pm by Jane Chin, Ph.D.

We can’t stop information from flowing – that includes “good” (accurate, fair-balanced, disclaimers to the wazoo, disclosures of conflicts) and “bad” (misleading, baised, inaccurate) information.

What Google Health may be incurring is even more information that consumers must wade through. This was why some are already wondering how quality may be controlled – through citizen voting or other methods.

You’re right, even med journals and scientific journals have to work at it to keep the integrity of their info, although the whole peer review process has been criticized at least in the bench science world.

# 2006-5-13 @ 1:05:12 pm by Jane Chin, Ph.D.

This is to follow up on the Google Health Co-op discussion group.

A user has noticed that searches in Google Health were “heavily influenced by the seven authority sites that Google has chosen” and whether there was a way to unsubscribe and therefore not be influenced by those “experts.”

When I looked at the topic experts, I saw that topical experts could influence page ranking and search filters. So how fair-balanced and accessible *really* is the health information we’re seeing?

What if special interest groups and drug companies become topic experts as well, to make sure their preferences are also included?

Obviously, this does not make the information automatically biased. We just need to be aware that information we’re seeing in a “citizen contributed” area already has influential bias by virtue of the topic experts who rank what’s “significant”.

Updated: June 30, 2013 — 8:08 am


Add a Comment
  1. Hi, Jane – thanks for the feedback.

    I cited this example to Bob Coffield at Health Care Law Blog and asked him about its implications for Google Health (as we understand it based on press releases, etc.).

    Here’s my actual post: raised an issue about Google Health Co-Op that I think has implications for Google Health – namely that their advertising-based revenue model puts them into an ethical gray area.

    From a liability standpoint, could Google get itself into trouble for say, serving up advertisements for a food product made in a facility where nuts are processed and packaged to a Google Health user with a fatal allergy to peanuts?

    I’m not sure if that’s the best example, but hopefully you understand my point. Does Google Health’s apparent aspirations put the company at risk?

    I’m not a lawyer, but it would seem to me that whatever liability Google be taking on would increase if they show a pattern of not addressing bogus advertisements that were *specifically* targeting healthcare consumers.

  2. Jeff,

    I am not a lawyer either, but the burden of proof would rest on the consumer who may claim that he or she was harmed directly due to Google Health’s advertising. I think that would be very difficult to prove.

    For example, a consumer with cancer sees an advertiser through Google Adsense or Google Health and clicks on the ad that said, “These Herbal Tabs Cure Your Cancer!” Consumer clicks through and purchases product. Product causes injury to consumer. Who does the consumer sue? The product manufacturer seems to be the clearest and most direct target. Consumer can sue Google for facilitating it, but I’m not sure how the law works in this case.

    Given Google’s size and power, I’m sure it has massive legal teams who scrutinize the company’s liability in this matter. The fact that Google hasn’t done as much as consumers would like it to do in healthcare advertising may suggest that Google isn’t too concerned about its ability – yet (but I’m speculating).

    Jane Chin

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