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Friday, 23 April 2021 10:59

Google wants Australians to trust it with depression data. Seriously

Google wants Australians to trust it with depression data. Seriously Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The Federal Court recently found that Google misled Android users about personal location data from January 2017 to December 2018.

Yet, two providers of services for those suffering depression — Lifeline Australia and Black Dog Institute — have had no hesitation in signing up with the search giant to provide information about the condition to Australians.

In fact, two people from these organisations — Rachel Bowes, head of Crisis Services and Quality at Lifeline Australia, and Jill Newby, Associate Professor at Black Dog Institute — had no qualms about co-authoring a post on the official Google blog to flog the service.

The new tool, launched in March, would enable people to take a self-test to see if they are suffering from depression.

The media release sent out by Google Australia said people could "see their risk for depression as well as connect with evidence-based resources, crisis hotlines, and additional support from teams at Black Dog Institute and Lifeline".

But in the light of the numerous privacy issues that have surfaced with Google, should these institutions have endorsed such a company to provide what is intensely personal data?

Google's statement said nothing about privacy or security of data. Not a word.

So I emailed the company's Communications and Public Affairs manager Camilla Ibrahim, in whose name the release was sent, the following query: "How does this information stay private? Is it also going to be used for targeting online advertising as Google does with all search queries?"

Ibrahim shied away from providing an answer that could be quoted and attributed to either her, or the company itself. An answer was provided on background – something companies and people do to provide themselves plausible deniability.

Given that I decided not to use it. I cannot, in good faith, write things like, "iTWire understands..." using material which I am unsure about.

I wrote back to Ibrahim, saying: "You can either give a quote for use, or else say there is no response. I do not accept backgrounding of this kind." Nearly a month has gone by, but there has been no further statement from the company.

Google's problems with privacy have figured in my columns more than once. You can read this piece or else go here. Or if you have much more time to spend, go to Wikipedia. The message is the same.

Anyone who needs help can contact the following source:

Lifeline 13 11 14 and

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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