Google yesterday launched a beta test of its long-awaited yet contentious Google Health service for archiving medical records and finding medical services. The new offering, which launched with a handful of partners including pharmacies and clinics, is intended as a one-stop shop for users who want all their medical information in one place.

Given the nature of the information being stored, however, the new site is likely to provoke controversy among privacy advocates who may be wary that the medical records are safe from tampering or snooping. Google, for its part, pledges never to sell a patient's information, and promises that it will only share it with a patient's permission - a permission that can be revoked at any time. It remains unclear how the search giant intends to profit from Google Health in the long-term, but it is possible that it will eventually charge doctors and hospitals if they want to be a part of the site.

Google already faces competition from Microsoft, which began offering a similar HealthVault service in October. Revolution Health, a start-up backed by former AOL chairman Steve Case, is also believed to be working on a service for electronic medical records.