Although Apple’s Siri popularized the concept, Amazon’s Alexa currently sits at the top of the growing voice assistant wars.
According to Amazon (AMZN), consumers have purchased more than 100 million Alexa devices. That means millions of Alexa devices are taking online shopping requests, delivering weather reports, and now, even helping users order and manage their medications.
There are notable benefits to Amazon’s latest push into building out Alexa’s health-based skillset. After all, some consumers may suffer severe health consequences when they forget to take their prescription medications. But by providing Alexa with their private health information, consumers may be giving up a significant amount of medical data that could be exposed to theft and misuse.
Alexa’s New Medication Management Skill
Amazon initially released its Alexa virtual assistant AI in 2014. In the years following, the company rapidly added more skills, including fairly advanced features like smart home management (such as operating smart locks or turning on and off lights). Among the most popular features, however, are voice-managed online shopping and calendar reminders. Alexa recently announced a new medication management skill that effectively combines these two concepts.
With the new medication management skill, users can receive voice reminders to take their prescription medications. The skill also allows users to order medication refills from their pharmacist. This new skill, notably, comes on the heels of Amazon’s purchase of online pharmacy PillPack.
For consumers who rely on prescription medications, Alexa is just one of many potential technological solutions to prescription drug management. But it also raises significant privacy and security concerns that consumers should consider before signing up for this or other third-party medical apps.
Privacy Implications of Sharing Medical Data With Amazon
More than 50% of consumers are worried about businesses misusing their data, signifying a fair amount of unease about Amazon’s drive to collect more data and venture into prescription management.
Amazon houses data in the cloud, and users who share their medical data may not just be sharing it with Amazon. They can also be sharing it with the companies that Amazon partners with to provide services. In the case of medication management, that could include the Amazon-owned company that it’s using to offer medication refills.
It’s Not All Bad: More Data Mean Faster Service
Although the concerns over privacy are real, Amazon’s collection of user data isn’t all bad. The growth of artificial intelligence coincides with the growth of useful tech services. The more of your data a company like Amazon has, the easier it is for it to make accurate recommendations.
For example, as Amazon gathers information about a user’s medication scheduling and usage, its artificial intelligence can get a better idea of when that user forgets to take medications. This information can improve the reminder services by making them more targeted.
Additionally, consumers can combine Alexa with smart home features that have the potential to help Amazon save lives. A more holistic understanding of a users’ habits and movements could make it possible for a future model of Amazon Alexa to call emergency services on behalf of a user who loses consciousness.
In fact, Alexa is currently among many technological solutions elderly caregivers are using to help provide services to their clients.
Although Amazon is well known for the robustness of its own cybersecurity protections on user data, using its services for medical purposes, and especially prescription refilling, could put users at an added risk.
Potential Cost Savings, With Apprehension
Amazon’s push into the health industry could be a cause for concern for privacy-conscious individuals — as it should. The proliferation of companies that have access to private information could increase the chance your data is vulnerable. Even still, consumers may be able to reap the benefits while protecting themselves against the potential negative consequences of stolen data.
Medications can be prohibitively expensive. In fact, nearly half of all consumers choose not to buy their medications due to the high costs. But Amazon, its PillPack acquisition, and its Alexa medication management skill could be just what many consumers need to save money on prescriptions and remember to take them as needed.
As consumers continue to do a cost/benefit analysis, weighing the cost of medical care with the risk of data privacy, lowering costs may win out. Data theft mitigation services such as LifeLock, Identity Guard, or IDShield now offer protection and loss insurance. For some consumers, the risks may be worth the reward.
Maxime Rieman is Product Manager at ValuePenguin. Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Rieman's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.
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