Do You Trust Amazon With Your Medical Records?
We wrestle with Amazon's plan to buy One Medical for nearly $4 billion
Amazon proved that it’s willing to enter any market with its 2017 announcement that it would buy Whole Foods for $13.4 billion.
What other tech giant would buy a grocery store?
Now Amazon is moving into — robotic vacuums? Amazon said it wanted to buy Roomba-maker iRobot for $1.7 billion. The acquisition raised all sorts of questions about what exactly Amazon wants from the suctioning rover manufacturer. Is the company trying to make a map of your house?
Paranoia about Amazon’s data hoovering went into overdrive when Amazon announced that it intends to buy a virtual doctor’s office. Amazon said it would purchase telemedicine-powered doctor’s office One Medical for nearly $4 billion. (That acquisition comes after Amazon purchased pharmacy company PillPack in 2018 for $753 million.)
My former boss Brad Stone smartly argued yesterday that the acquisitions are part of Amazon Chief Andy Jassy’s effort to build a “fourth pillar” for the company that moves it beyond Amazon Web Services, Prime, and Amazon Marketplace.
The deals are also emblematic of Jassy’s hunt for a so-called fourth “pillar,” beyond AWS, Prime and the Amazon Marketplace. Jeff Bezos described the features of such a business in his shareholder letter in 2014: “Customers love it, it can grow to very large size, it has strong returns on capital, and it’s durable in time—with the potential to endure for decades.” Eight years later, Amazon’s pursuit of this coveted fourth leg of the stool has been largely fruitless. Video has been an important part of Prime but is free for members and generates a nebulous return on capital. Advertising spews cash for Amazon ($8.76 billion in the last quarter alone) but is tolerated, not embraced, by customers.
The deal raises questions, not just about Amazon’s strategy, but about how big we want these tech giants to get. Stone described the acquisitions as reflecting “an almost breathtaking disregard for the trustbusters.”
On Dead Cat, the tech podcast I co-host, this week we grapple with whether we’re comfortable with Amazon’s size, especially as the e-commerce giant saunters into our medical lives.
Katie Benner and I are both One Medical customers — patients you might call us — so on the latest episode we debate whether we would cancel our subscriptions once One Medical is officially under new ownership.