“There was no advance warning, just an email today,” said a developer who created an Alexa skill with personal data controlled under US HIPPA guidelines. Amazon’s recent change in Alexa-related priorities has led the company to terminate his so-called 3P HIPPA-qualified skill.
The Only HIPPA Compliant Voice Assistant – RIP
Amazon first introduced HIPPA-compliant capabilities for Alexa skills in April 2019 in a limited developer preview. At the time, the leading general-purpose consumer voice assistant providers included Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung. Amazon was the only company offering his HIPPA-compliant option for third-party developers. This sole position in the market has never been challenged by Alexa’s rivals, but its cost-cutting initiatives are sometimes more ruthless than those of its competitors.
The program kicked off with the announcement of skills debuting that day from Atrium Health, Boston Children’s Hospital, Cigna, Express Scripts, Livongo and Swedish Health Connect. 3 out of 6 no longer appear in the Alexa Skills store. At that time, third-party developers could apply to be selected for the program. As of next week, there will be no general-purpose voice assistant that independent developers can build if they can collect HIPPA-compliant data.
While Amazon is still investing in its third-party Alexa skill developer ecosystem, the abrupt shutdown of the 3P HIPPA skill reminds us of Google’s June announcement of end-of-support for third-party conversational actions. This warning was issued well before the deprecation, but the impact was much more severe. Google has ended support for its third-party developers of Conversational Actions, a version of Alexa Skills. Instead, the company focuses on first-party or internally developed features along with smart home and media applications.
Amazon is doing something similar. Not all HIPPA support will end. HIPPA-eligible skills can only be developed with support from first-party resources. The HIPPA Alexa Skills feature is also now under the Alexa smart properties in the Healthcare business unit. This model seems similar to other smart property segments such as hospitality.
The move also reflects a reorientation of Amazon’s investment in Alexa for enterprise applications and segments where skills can be monetized. In the consumer segment, that category includes games and other skills that charge subscriptions. For businesses, this is determined by a combination of subscription fees and usage fees.
Note that this move is not just a lack of expected revenue in these segments. The move also cuts costs and reduces the risk of data privacy breaches.
That said, Amazon must believe that working directly with providers can generate substantial revenue in the healthcare space and that there is no meaningful way to monetize skills developed by third parties. There is none. The turnaround for Alexa is just beginning. Expect more changes like this in the coming weeks.
Amazon Layoff Update and Impact on Alexa – Update
Amazon deploys HIPAA-compliant Alexa service at Boston Children’s, Swedish, and Atrium Hospital Systems, Cigna, and Express Scripts
Google Assistant Actions (Voice Apps) Retired, Focus Shifts to Android Apps