Google Criticized for Accessing Private Health Information in New Collaboration

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. streamline / ˈstrimˌlaɪn / (v) – to make something work more efficiently

    The company will streamline its service so that it can serve customers better.

  2. break the news / breɪk ðə nuz / (idiom) – to tell someone something, usually something bad or disappointing

    The police called and broke the news about my wife’s car accident.

  3. under fire / ˈʌn dər faɪər / (idiom) – in a state of being strongly criticized

    The company was under fire for releasing flawed software.

  4. keep (someone) in the dark / kip ɪn ðə dɑrk / (idiom) – to not tell someone about something

    The project is still in its proposal stage, so the management kept most of the staff in the dark about it.

  5. allay / əˈleɪ / (v) – to reduce or lessen the strength or severity of something

    The management released a statement on its website to allay concerns over the company’s new privacy policy.


Read the text below.

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.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you think Google can streamline data management and develop AI for Ascension without accessing sensitive information from Ascension? Explain.
• If Google becomes successful with Project Nightingale, do you think patients would be open and trusting of AIs diagnosing them? Why or why not?

Discussion B

• Do you think traditional paper records should be fully transitioned into digital records? Why or why not?
• If an organization decides to digitize all its records, is it better to get a separate but respected tech company to do it, or should the organization do it on its own? Discuss the pros and cons of each.