Project Nightingale: Google secretly given access to medical data of millions of Americans

Technology giant says access to private medical records through deal with Ascension is 'standard practice'

Anthony Cuthbertson@ADCuthbertson
Wednesday 13 November 2019 02:47
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Google has secretly amassed the health records of millions of patients in the US through a partnership with the country’s second largest healthcare provider.

The initiative, dubbed “Project Nightingale,” gives the technology giant access to private medical details, names and addresses without having to notify the patients or the doctors.

Under the deal with health firm Ascension, access to data was first granted to Google last year and the program has since been expanded to 21 American states.

Google said such access was “standard practice” and will assist with the development of artificial intelligence (AI) tools for doctors, as well as improve the management of patient data.

“All of Google’s work with Ascension adheres to industry-wide regulations regarding patient data, and come with strict guidance on data privacy, security and usage,” Google wrote in a blog post.

Google added that the arrangement did not allow the data to be combined with existing consumer data collected by the firm.

“Modernising the healthcare industry is a critically important task, with the ultimate result not just digital transformation, but also improving patient outcomes,” the post stated.

Details of the deal were first reported by The Wall Street Journal and subsequently corroborated by The New York Times, who claimed that “dozens of Google employees” had access to the private records. The publication also cited concerns that some workers may have downloaded the data from Google’s Cloud servers.

Google and Ascension only publicised details of their work together after the reports were already published.

A press release from Ascension said the deal would “improve the experience of patients and consumers” by streamlining its services.

“As the healthcare 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 healthcare providers,” said Eduardo Conrado, executive vice-president of strategy and innovations at Ascension.

“Doing that will require the programmatic integration of new care models delivered through the digital platforms, applications and services that are part of the everyday experience of those we serve.”

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