Artificial intelligence health app taking more information than necessary: Report

TELUS Health's Babylon app was introduced in Alberta in March 2020.

A health app that allows Albertans to speak to a virtual agent about the symptoms of their potential illnesses is not fully compliant with rules set out to protect the privacy of its clients, a provincial agency has found.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) says it has come up with a list of 31 findings and 20 recommendations following an investigation into TELUS' Babylon Health app.

The mobile program was first launched in B.C. in March 2019 but came to Alberta last year.

Following a review of the app, which was launched in April 2020, the OIPC says it associates government-issued ID and selfie photos with accounts for verification purposes, collected and recorded audio and video consultations conducted through the app and had a number of issues with its privacy policy.

"Many of the findings from the (Personal Information Protection Act) investigation relate to the app’s privacy policy, which was found to be unclear, lengthy and contained inaccuracies," the province said in a release. "For example, the privacy policy did not clearly identify the purposes for which personal information is collected, and it was not clear what information was associated with each purpose. The privacy policy also referred to functionality that was not enabled or available to individuals."

The OIPC said while Babylon informed them the video recording function was disabled in June 2020, the audio recording feature is still available.

It added the issue regarding photos and the recording of consultations are "not consistent with provincial and national guidelines for providing health care."

When the app first launched, Health Minister Tyler Shandro called it timely, especially when COVID-19 rules at the time had Albertans self-isolating whenever they exhibited cold or flu-like symptoms.

"Using this app is an alternative to visiting physicians face-to-face when you're not sure if your symptoms are related to the novel coronavirus or at any other time," he said at the time.

Now, the province said it will be carefully considering the OIPC reports but says TELUS has already implemented some of the recommendations on its own.

Meanwhile, TELUS is standing by its MyCare virtual care service, insisting that it "meets or exceeds all privacy requirements set out in Alberta's legislation" including the concerns outlined in the OIPC report.

"We are constantly enhancing our privacy program and we recently updated our privacy policy, internal data policies, and agreements with our physicians; and we continue to work cooperatively with the OIPC," said  Dr. Keir Peterson, Chief Medical Officer, Consumer Health, TELUS, in a statement.

"Protecting our customers' privacy and safeguarding their personal information is paramount and we want to assure users of TELUS Health MyCare that their privacy is and has always been respected."