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Google faces criticism for accessing private health information via its collaboration with healthcare provider Ascension.
The tech giant was hired by Ascension to streamline the latter’s data management system and develop artificial intelligence tools that can anticipate or diagnose medical conditions. The scheme, called Project Nightingale, allows Google to access Ascension’s database containing information from over 2,600 hospitals. This includes access to patients’ names, birthdates, lab results, hospitalizations, and diagnoses provided by Ascension.
The Wall Street Journal broke the news about Project Nightingale to the public in November. Since then, the project has been under fire for keeping everyone in the dark about the two companies having access to sensitive information. More importantly, neither Google nor Ascension informed doctors or patients that their private information was being accessed. There were also fears that Google employees were downloading the patients’ information.
In response, Google explained that it did not announce having access to the information because the project was still in its early stages. Furthermore, doctors and patients were not informed because the terms of the partnership with Ascension did not require this step.
Still, to allay the public’s worries about privacy, both companies assured that they have reliable data security and protection measures in place and that they comply with the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, a law that protects patient privacy.
Google further stated that the patient information gathered will not be used for any other purpose except to provide the services required by Ascension.