Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been criticised after refusing to reveal details of a contract between the Department of Health and Amazon to provide NHS health advice via the voice assistant Alexa.
A heavily redacted form of the contract was obtained by Privacy International, citing concerns about the extent of NHS data which the company would be able to access.
The Alexa service was launched in the UK in July, when Mr Hancock told Sky News that the device was already being used by millions to ask health questions.
It does not allow Amazon to access patients’ healthcare data, one of the most lucrative markets for data in the world.
Amazon said the core details of the contract allowed it to receive the NHS advice data in a format which Alexa could use, and then to read that out to people using voice search.
Eva Blum-Dumontet, of Privacy International, told Sky News that the organisation was “not opposed in principle to cooperation between Amazon and the NHS”.
But the sensitive nature of people’s engagements with the NHS meant that the pair needed to be transparent about that collaboration, and what data Amazon had access to.
“At the moment, we can’t see what NHS data has been provided to Amazon,” Ms Blum-Dumontet said.
She noted the exercise has also been a free advertisement for Amazon, featuring the health secretary “going around the media talking about how this was going to change people’s lives by accessing NHS content through Amazon devices”.
The documents uncovered by Privacy International reveal that Amazon had the right to review all of the NHS press material made about the Alexa tie-up, as well as use the NHS logo in its own promotions.
“There are a lot of advantages for Amazon, but what is the NHS getting out of this?” Ms Blum-Dumontet asked.
Additional privacy concerns have been raised about the sensitivity of the searches which Alexa users could be making if they are seeking official medical guidance.
Earlier this year it was revealed that Amazon staff often listen to Alexa recordings and share them in chat rooms in order to enhance Alexa’s ability to understand human speech.
Amazon says that employees don’t have direct access to information which can identify the account holder, and that users could delete these searches from their device by saying “Alexa delete my last search” after making them.
According to the Labour Party’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, the deal shows that the government has been “highly irresponsible” and is “in the pocket of big corporate interests”.
The Liberal Democrats spokesperson Tom Brake accused the party of “selling off NHS data for nothing”.
The Conservative Party has not responded to requests for comment from Sky News.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health told Sky News the issue was an NHS England matter to comment on, despite the contract being between the Minister for Health and Social Affairs and Amazon.