Amazon’s One Medical acquisition sparks data privacy backlash: ‘What could go wrong?’

Amazon.com Inc.’s $3.9 billion deal to acquire the direct primary-care company One Medical marks the tech giant’s biggest move into the healthcare space, but is sparking concerns about data privacy.

On Thursday Amazon
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announced an agreement to acquire One Medical, which operates under 1Life Healthcare Inc.
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for $18 a share, or $3.9 billion including debt. Amazon wants to reinvent healthcare. In a statement, the company cited the process involved booking medical appointments, “waiting weeks or even months to be seen,” and trips to the pharmacy as areas that could be improved. “We see lots of opportunity to both improve the quality of the experience and give people back valuable time in their days,” said Neil Lindsay, senior vice president of Amazon Health Services. “We love inventing to make what should be easy easier and we want to be one of the companies that helps dramatically improve the healthcare experience over the next several years.”

But what about data privacy? As Amazon extends its tentacles further into the healthcare sector, many people have taken to Twitter to express their concerns about the One Medical deal.

“Amazon’s latest bundle offering: Prime TV subscriptions + Smart home devices + groceries …. + Your healthcare provider. What could go wrong?” tweeted Krista Brown, senior policy analyst at the American Economic Liberties Project on Thursday.

The American Economic Liberties Project, in a statement, urged regulators to block what it described as Amazon’s “dangerous” acquisition of One Medical. “Allowing Amazon to control the health care data for another 700,000+ individuals is terrifying,” Brown said in the statement, also pointing to the deal’s impact on other healthcare companies. “Acquiring One Medical will entrench Amazon’s growing presence in the healthcare industry, undermining competition,” she added.

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The project’s data privacy fears were echoed by attorney Elizabeth Shubov, an emerging technology advisor at the consulting firm Cantellus Group. “Amazon will now have access to data on what we watch, read, eat, buy, ask Alexa, pharmaceuticals, and now primary care. There are some limits on data usage but not enough,” she tweeted. “Consumers need to be able to control their data.”

One Medical members also expressed their concerns about the deal.

“Amazon just bought my healthcare provider. This is terrifying. Paging @SenWarren please stop this!” tweeted Deb Landau. “I don’t want to have to choose between data privacy and quality health care.”

“Amazon is buying OneMedical. As a @onemedical customer, I am worried about data privacy. Are you?” tweeted Deniz Johnson.

Amazon says One Medical customers’ data will not be shared without the customer’s permission. “As required by law, Amazon will never share One Medical customers’ personal health information outside of One Medical for advertising or marketing purposes of other Amazon products and services without clear permission from the customer,” said an Amazon spokesperson, in a statement emailed to MarketWatch. “Should the deal close, One Medical customers’ HIPAA Protected Health Information will be handled separately from all other Amazon businesses, as required by law,” the spokesperson added.

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Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders slammed the deal in a tweet on Thursday. “The function of a rational health care system is to provide quality care to all in a cost-effective way, not make billionaires like Jeff Bezos even richer,” he wrote. “At a time of growing concentration of ownership, the Justice Department must deny Amazon’s acquisition of One Medical.”

MarketWatch has also reached out One Medical with a request for comment on the data privacy implications of the deal but has not yet heard back from the company.

The deal’s potential impact on patient care is also attracting attention. Dr. Shantanu Nundy, a primary-care physician and chief medical officer at Accolade Inc., a virtual primary-care provider, noted on Twitter that one-quarter of Americans don’t have a primary-care physician and many more don’t have a trusting relationship with one.

“What this deal validates is that there is a real and growing market for new primary-care models that work precisely because they are different in the way patients experience care,” he wrote. “The trick is for that better experience to also deliver better outcomes.”

Nundy said that the Amazon-One Medical model won’t work for all potential patients but adds that no single primary-care model works for everyone. “Is Amazon-One Med ‘the answer’ for a large subset of patients?—I don’t know yet,” he added. “But do we need more ways to deliver high quality primary care to more kinds of patients?-YES.”

The deal is not Amazon’s first move into healthcare but marks its largest deal in an increasingly busy space. In 2018, Amazon embarked on its acquisition of medication delivery service Pillpack for a reported $1 billion in cash, beating out Walmart Inc.
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in the process. Amazon Pharmacy was launched two years later. The Amazon Care telehealth service made its debut in 2019 for employees and was rolled out nationwide earlier this year. Amazon also announced that in-person Amazon Care services will be available in more than 20 new cities in 2022.

The days when Amazon sold books online are in the distant past and the tech behemoth has gone on to revolutionize entire sectors, from retail to home entertainment. Amazon sees big opportunities in healthcare and undoubtedly possesses the scale and ambition to reshape that space, too. The prospect of lower drug prices, for example, was cited as a positive by consumers in the wake of the Pillpack acquisition.

Amazon shares, which have fallen 26.7% this year, fell 2.1% to $122.13 on Friday. Shares of 1Life Healthcare, which have declined 2.7% this year, were down 0.9% at $17.10 on Friday.

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