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Google Whistleblower Raises Concerns Over Firm’s Access to Medical Data

Ross Kelly

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Google Medical Data

A deal between Google and Ascension will see the medical data of up to 50 million Americans handed over to the tech giant. 

A whistleblower believed to be working on Google’s Project Nightingale has claimed that medical patients are being ‘kept in the dark’ over the massive data-sharing deal. 

The data transfer agreement between Google and US healthcare provider Ascension, which operates a network of more than 2,000 hospitals and medical clinics across the US, will see the medical data of up to 50 million American citizens handed over to Google.

The move follows similar deals struck by Google in recent years with healthcare providers. Google has previously secured data-sharing deals with healthcare providers such as the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine.

Through the deal, staff at the tech giant will be granted access to highly sensitive medical information belonging to US patients, as well as individual’s names and other forms of personal information. 

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The anonymous whistleblower posted a video on social media site Daily Motion revealing documents which contain hundreds of images of sensitive files held by Project Nightingale. 

“I must speak out about the things that are going on behind the scenes,” the individual explains.  

According to the whistleblower, by March 2020 the transfer of personal data will have been completed, with information on 50 million patients across 21 states accessible by Google staff.  

No warning will have been given to patients or doctors affected by the deal, an issue which documents show Ascension officials were concerned with. Minutes taken from a meeting between the two firms suggest that Ascension staff raised concerns about Google’s use of patient data.

It is believed the data could be used to build a range of new tools and services at the tech giant, including the development of new artificial intelligence systems.  

Minutes from the meeting show that one person expressed concerns over “individuals downloading patient data” and that Google must ensure “everyone is trained to not be able to do that”. 

Speaking to The Guardian, the whistleblower said there is “widespread anxiety” among Project Nightingale employees over the company’s access to highly-personal medical data.

“Most Americans would feel uncomfortable if they knew their data was being haphazardly transferred to Google without proper safeguards and security in place,” they said. “This is a totally new way of doing things. Do you want your most personal information transferred to Google? I think a lot of people would say no.”

The whistleblower told the publication that they had family members who were worried about medical information such as their body weight being shared. Additionally, some voiced reservations over details such as medical conditions and their hospital visit history being included in data given to Google.

Entrusting such large volumes of medical data with one technology company, the whistleblower warned, could prove dangerous for consumers – and it’s an issue that will likely persist.

“In the future, such risks are only likely to grow. This is the last frontier of extremely sensitive data that needs to be protected,” they insisted.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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