Google supposedly gathers health information on countless Americans without notifying clients


Revealed: The Secrets our Clients Used to Earn $3 Billion

Angela Lang/CNET

Google is gathering comprehensive health information on countless Americans through a collaboration with Ascension, the country’s second-largest healthcare system, according to a report Monday by The Wall Street Journal. 

The effort, called Project Nightingale, gathers details from individuals throughout 21 states, consisting of information on laboratory outcomes, medical diagnoses and hospitalization records, and likewise consists of client names and birthdates. The function of the task is supposedly to create health software application that might home in on a client’s case history. Patients and medical professionals have not been notified of the Google collaboration, and Ascension workers have actually raised issues over the task, the Journal stated. 

After the Journal report was released, Ascension released a news release revealing the collaboration. Ascension stated the offer includes its facilities being moved onto Google’s cloud platform, along with the business embracing Google’s G Suite performance tools. The business stated the offer is certified with HIPAA, the federal law controling the security and personal privacy of specific medical details. 

“As the health care environment continues to rapidly evolve, we must transform to better meet the needs and expectations of those we serve as well as our own caregivers and health care providers,” stated Eduardo Conrado, Ascension’s executive vice president of technique and developments.

Google likewise launched a declaration late Monday, calling the arrangement with Ascension “standard practice in health care.”

“To be clear: under this arrangement, Ascension’s data cannot be used for any other purpose than for providing these services we’re offering under the agreement,” Tariq Shaukat, president of Google Cloud, stated in a post. “And patient data cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data.” 

“By working in partnership with leading health care systems like Ascension, we hope to transform the delivery of health care through the power of the cloud, data analytics, machine learning, and modern productivity tools,” Shaukat stated.

The task statement comes as Google makes a larger push into healthcare. Earlier this month, the search giant stated it’s purchasing Fitbit, a physical fitness tracker business, for $2.1 billion, signifying a much deeper financial investment in health services.

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Google, though, has received blowback for its treatment of medical information in the past. Two years ago, Google, the University of Chicago and an affiliated medical center struck a partnership that allowed the search giant to use patient data and health records in an attempt to improve predictive analysis. 

But in July, Google, the university and the medical center were hit with a lawsuit after the medical center allegedly shared records with Google without stripping away identifiable information. That data included doctors’ notes and date stamps for “hundreds of thousands” of patients. At the time, Google said it acted in accordance with the law. The University of Chicago said the claims were “without merit.”

In another project, Deepmind, a Google artificial intelligence unit in the UK, got into hot water for the way it used data obtained through partnerships with hospitals. In 2016, Deepmind unveiled a pact with the Royal Free Hospital in London to build an app that would identify patients with acute kidney damage. But not every patient was aware that his or her data was being given to Google to test the app. 

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, also has a robust operation around medical research. Alphabet’s health tech arm, called Verily, has developed medical-focused wearables, including a smart contact lens for people with age-related farsightedness and a sensor-packed watch to collect data for clinical studies. Another Alphabet company, Calico, is trying to expand the length of the average human lifespan.

On Monday, news of Project Nightingale riled up lawmakers. “Blatant disregard for privacy, public well-being, & basic norms is now core to Google’s business model,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in a tweet. “This abuse is beyond shameful.”

Originally published Nov. 11, 11:18 a.m. PT.
Update, 3:08 p.m. PT:
Adds information from Ascension’s press release; 4:37 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Sen. Richard Blumenthal; and 5:37 p.m. PT: Adds further comment from Google.

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