Google under investigation after acquiring medical data of millions of people

  • Google is under investigation after it was discovered that the firm has secretly acquired medical data on millions of people.

    Global tech giant Google has been revealed to be working artificial intelligence tools for medical purposes following the secret transfer of private medical data on millions of patients without their knowledge. Dubbed Project Nightingale, the scheme involves Google partnering with US healthcare giant Ascension to acquire the medical data of millions of US citizens.

    A similar secret transfer of medical data on 1.6 million UK NHS patients from The Royal Free hospital to Google took place back in 2017 for use in its DeepMind Health AI project, and was declared by the UK Information Commissioner's Office at the time as having an "inappropriate legal basis." As with the new transfer of patient records, the patients themselves were never informed that their records would be used in developing software.

    Building an AI tool requires access to massive quantities of pre-classified data, and the medical field has millions of detailed records on patients that could be used to train a machine learning system. Data stored on patients includes hospital admittance records, lab test results, diagnosis details, and personal details such as names, home addresses, and dates of birth.

    A whistleblower revealed details of Project Nightingale in a video posted online this week, confirming the extent of the private data that Google has access to through its deal with US Healthcare firm Ascension. The records of over 50 million US citizens will be passed to Google without patients or their doctors being asked for their consent, and none of the data has been anonymised or de-personalised.

    Google asserts that it's following all US regulations regarding the transfer of patient records and staff are given appropriate data handling training, and has promised that patient data will not be combined with its existing databases of user data. The whisleblower has disagreed, highlighting that patients haven't been informed about how their data will be used and that Google may be able to sell or share the data with third parties under the private agreement.

    Source: The Guardian, BBC News, BBC News Update

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    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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