Google Has Reportedly Collected Personal Health Information of Millions of Americans for Secret 'Project Nightingale'
Google has launched a secret partnership with the country’s second-largest health system to reportedly collect the personal health information of millions of Americans from 21 states.
The tech giant’s “Project Nightingale” initiative with the nonprofit health system Ascension began last year, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.
The report states Google is using the data in part to help develop new software that could allow individuals to identify personalized changes to their health care.
Project Nightingale’s data includes information such as lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records. Patients’ names and dates of birth are also included.
Neither patients nor doctors have been notified of the project, which includes the personal information of tens of millions of Americans.
Nevertheless, the WSJ reported, the initiative appears to be perfectly legal, according to privacy experts.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 permits hospitals to partner with businesses and share patients’ data — with the stipulation that information be used “only to help the covered entity carry out its health care functions.”
At least 150 Google employees have access to the health care data at this time.
A company spokeswoman told the WSJ that the project both complies with federal law and protects patients’ data.
Some Ascension employees, however, are not so sure.
The WSJ cites “people familiar with the project” who say that some employees at the health system are concerned about the methods used in collecting and sharing the data.
Project Nightingale is part of Google’s cloud division, a section of the company that CEO Sundar Pichai hopes to expand.
According to the WSJ, the company’s goal is to “create an omnibus search tool to aggregate disparate patient data and host it all in one place.”
Google is no stranger to ambitious data projects and the accompanying controversies regarding individuals’ privacy.
In September, the tech giant was fined $170 million by the Federal Trade Commission for illegally collecting data about children’s usage of its YouTube website.
The fine was the largest civil penalty in the realm of children’s online privacy.
When reached for comment by The Western Journal, Google responded by pointing us to a news release.
“Ascension, one of the nation’s leading non-profit health systems, is working with Google to optimize the health and wellness of individuals and communities, and deliver a comprehensive portfolio of digital capabilities that enhance the experience of Ascension consumers, patients and clinical providers across the continuum of care,” the release read.
“Ascension is a leader at increasing patient access to care across all regions and backgrounds, particularly those in disadvantaged communities,” Google Cloud President Tariq Shaukat said.
“We’re proud to partner with them on their digital transformation.”
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