News Release

Amazon Acquires One Medical, Expanding the Company’s “Data-opoly”

Amazon announced last week it would buy primary health care provider One Medical for nearly $4 billion. One Medical is a private concierge service provider whose purchase by Amazon marks both the company’s next move into the healthcare space as well as a major new source of digital health data for Amazon.

MAURICE STUCKE; mstucke@utk.edu 
   Stucke is a professor of antitrust and privacy law. This year, he authored Breaking Away: How to Regain Control Over Our Data, Privacy, and Autonomy, and How Big-Tech Barons Smash Innovation––and How to Strike Back. 

Stucke told the Institute for Public Accuracy today: Companies like Amazon are “not just dominant platforms. They control an ecosystem––a series of interconnected platforms––and that’s an important distinction. If apps are worth millions and platforms are worth billions, ecosystems are quasi-sovereigns. The amount of data that travels through these ecosystems is unparalleled. You have the majority of digital advertising spending controlled by three firms: Google, Facebook, and Amazon. The concern here is not that they’re getting the same data but more of it; the concern is that they’re getting another important piece of us.

    “In Breaking Away, I explain how the only way that these firms can continue to generate the revenues and profits that are based in their market valuation is by expanding their ecosystem. One of the areas they can expand to make their revenue projects is health care––because it’s a significant percentage of our GDP.

    “With the move into wearable technology, for instance, there are a lot of positive upsides and scientific breakthroughs that will be made possible through the collection of this health data. But the underlying incentives of the ecosystem [are not aligned] with our incentives. These companies rely on behavioral advertising collected about us but not necessarily for our benefit. There is a shift here from third party to first party data, and those who can collect data directly will have more power. To the extent that our laws remain the same, these companies can have an advantage in behavioral advertising as well. 

    “Users are having some successes: Apple is making it harder to be tracked across apps, and California’s new privacy law prevents ‘cross-context behavioral advertising,’ which allows them to opt-out of behavioral ads based on data collected from third parties. 

Stucke also pointed out, alongside other critics, the privacy implications of these sorts of mergers in a post-Roe world. “After the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs,” Stucke said, “Google said that they won’t collect data on people visiting an abortion clinic. But there is so much other data out there, that they don’t need geolocation data.

    “Current antitrust tools aren’t well addressed to these kinds of data-driven mergers.” The U.S. has not yet followed step with countries like Germany, the U.K., and Australia, which are updating their antitrust laws. But Stucke says there is hope yet. “The good news,” he said today, “is that Congress has proposed a series of bipartisan antitrust bills, all emerging from the House Judiciary Committee, that are just sitting in Congress. And the Senate has companion bills with bipartisan support that are also just sitting there.” Those bills are a “necessary but not sufficient precondition to address these types of mergers that fortify the power of these companies.” 

Stucke also says that Americans need “robust privacy protections. Until we address the problems of behavioral advertising, there will always be these issues. We could break up Facebook but still have TikTok. Behavioral advertising is the source of the problem. It’s no longer just about predicting behavior but manipulating emotions and behavior. With comprehensive privacy legislation that really targets behavioral advertising, and antitrust legislation, we will be able to rein in and help prevent these mergers from happening. It’s not all dark: once the incentives are aligned, we can actually use data to help address health issues to our benefit.”