While individual patient data is not being given to the company, a copy of the December 2018 contract between Amazon and the DHSC reveals the company will be able to profit from its access to a range of information contained on the nhs.uk website.
Health secretary Matt Hancock hailed the deal with Amazon in July as a way to help give patients better medical advice using technology such as Alexa, which uses Amazon’s algorithm to answer key questions.
Campaigners from Privacy International obtained a copy of the contract using freedom of information laws. The full contract reveals the deal goes far beyond medical advice for use by Alexa.
It states the company will be able to access all “healthcare information, including without limitation symptoms, causes, and definitions, and all related copyrightable content, data, information and other materials”, the website has.
The contract allows Amazon to use this data in a number of ways – not just providing advice to UK users.
It also blocks the DHSC from issuing any publicity without Amazon’s consent, saying it “may not issue a press release or any other publicity in connection with or related to this agreement or Amazon’s use of [DHSC] content without the prior written consent of Amazon”.
Large parts of the contract have been redacted, with the DHSC claiming the blacked-out sections relate to commercial sensitivity for the company that could be damaged if the specific elements it agreed to with the government became known.
In a report on the contract, Privacy International said: “While this particular contract may sound harmless at first – after all, it is good news if Amazon uses the NHS as a trusted source for information for medical queries – we should not be naive about the intentions of big companies that are preying over the NHS.
“This particular partnership also raises questions when it comes to competition regulation of dominant players in the digital era.
“With their business model relying increasingly on the availability of consumers’ data, dominant online platforms can engage in various forms of data exploitation or even impose unfair terms for consumers.”
Amazon said that the data being made available to Alexa users was “general health-related content” already freely available on the NHS website.
A spokesperson said: ”Amazon does not build customer health profiles based on interactions with nhs.uk content or use such requests for marketing purposes.”
An NHS Improvement spokesperson said: “No patient data is being provided to this company by the NHS, which takes data privacy extremely seriously and has put appropriate safeguards in place to ensure information is used correctly.”
The row over the use of NHS data comes as the involvement of private companies in the NHS has featured heavily in the general election campaign, with Labour using leaked documents to show drug companies want to increase the costs of medicines for the NHS.
Last year Amazon saw its UK corporation tax bill fall to £4.6m despite profits tripling to £80m and turnover reaching more than £2bn. The Conservatives have suggested they will bring in an “Amazon tax” to target digital companies.
The full contract has been made available online here.