Secret Software Project Gathers Patient Data on Millions

Ascension, Google say product would suggest changes to care
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 11, 2019 6:00 PM CST
Software Project Collects Data on Millions of Patients Secretly
Google is working with Ascension health system in collecting medical data on Americans.   (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

In a project begun in secret last year, Google and Ascension health care are gathering personal data on tens of millions of Americans. The companies have not informed patients and doctors as they've compiled lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, the Wall Street Journal reports. Employees throughout Alphabet, Google's owner, have access to the data, which adds up to a complete health history of each patient. Internal documents show that at least 150 Google employees can see the information. Although Ascension staff members have questioned Project Nightingale, including the ethical implications of collecting and crunching the data, privacy experts and the companies said it's legal, per Business Insider. The companies said they have privacy protections in place for the information.

This seems to show Google is deeper into health analysis than was known, per Forbes, which also reviewed project documents. The project is part of Google's effort to build software that would use artificial intelligence and machine learning to suggest changes in Ascension patients' care. Google has not charged Ascension, the nation's largest nonprofit health system, so far for the project; it intends to sell software similar to what it develops through this project to other health systems, per the Journal. Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon also are working in health care but haven't entered a partnership this big. (More Google stories.)

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