Google reportedly collecting millions of Americans' healthcare data without patient consent [Update]

Google's recent acquisition of Fitbit is an indication of its interest in healthcare along with other tech giants like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft also pursuing interests. Now, a recent report from Wall Street Journal, which claims that Google has been siphoning health data on millions of Americans from Ascension data since 2018, has emerged

The program, nicknamed 'Project Nightingale', reportedly amasses private health data from millions of Americans across 21 states. Google initiated this program in secrecy with Ascension which is a St. Louis-based Catholic chain of hospitals and doctors' offices among other facilities. Extensive information was shared between the two as mentioned in the report:

"The data involved in the initiative encompasses lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, among other categories, and amounts to a complete health history, including patient names and dates of birth."

Google affirms that Project Nightingale complies with federal heath law. More specifically, this sharing of information is said to abide by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (or HIPAA) which permits sharing of patient data without intimating patients or doctors, as long as the sharing is restricted "only to help the covered entity carry out its healthcare functions."

At least 150 employees of Google have had access to the data. Google aims to aggregate patient data for heath care providers by using its cloud wing to locate probable changes to the care plans for individual patients. After the story was published, Ascension released a statement about its collaboration with Google which includes the following:

"All work related to Ascension's engagement with Google is HIPAA compliant and underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort and adherence to Ascension's strict requirements for data handling."

We will keep you updated this story as more information becomes available.

Source: The Wall Street Journal (paywall)

Update: Google has issued an official statement today, clarifying that its partnership with Ascension is focused on shifting Ascension's infrastructure to the cloud, G Suite integration and enabling doctors to improve patient care by providing them better tools. It also promises that its collaboration with Ascension adheres to HIPAA regulations regarding patient data, privacy, security and usage.

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