Google Secretly Storing Data of Millions of Americans: Report

A new report has emerged from The Wall Street Journal stating that tech-giant, Google has a ‘secret project’ storing health data on millions of Americans, without their knowledge.

The report, which can be accessed here says that “Google is engaged with one of the U.S.’s largest health-care systems on a project to collect and crunch the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states.”

In addition to this, Rob Copeland is reporting that “the initiative, code-named ‘Project Nightingale’, appears to be the biggest effort yet by a Silicon Valley giant to gain a toehold in the health-care industry through the handling of patients’ medical data. Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are also aggressively pushing into health care, though they haven’t yet struck deals of this scope,” according to the author.

The data being collected, according to reports, includes lab results, diagnoses from doctors, hospital records, and complete health history accounts which included patient names and dates of birth. The concerning aspect of this revelation, however, is the fact that it is being reported that “neither patients nor doctors have been notified. At least 150 Google employees already have access to much of the data on tens of millions of patients, according to a person familiar with the matter and the documents.”

The project commenced in secret last year, according to Copeland’s report, “with St. Louis-based Ascension, a Catholic chain of 2,600 hospitals, doctors’ offices and other facilities, with the data sharing accelerating since summer, according to internal documents.”

Google’s Cloud President, Tariq Shaukat has stated previously that the company’s goal in the context of health care is focussed on “ultimately improving outcomes, reducing costs, and saving lives.”

Eduardo Conrado, executive vice president at Ascension said that “as the health-care environment continues to rapidly evolve, we must transform to better meet the needs and expectations of those we serve as well as our own caregivers and health-care providers.” Ascension is the US’ second-largest health system and is aiming to improve patient care, while mining data obtained to make its operation more pointed.

The Journal’s reporting also states that “regulators are now scrutinizing the company on a number of fronts. Federal and state investigators over the summer made public separate anti-trust inquiries into Google The federal probe is examining whether Google’s existing trove of data amassed from its flagship search engine, home speakers, free email service and numerous other arms give the company an unfair advantage over competitors, people familiar with the matter said.”

The report also calls into question Google’s move to purchase Fitbit, manufacturer of wearable fitness trackers. “Politicians of both parties quickly criticised the deal, with chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, warned that the Fitbit deal would give Google ‘deep insights into Americans’ most sensitive information’”.

Larry Page, Google’s co-founder has addressed similar concerns in a 2014 interview where he suggested that people worried about the privacy of their medical records were overly cautious and failed to see the positive outcome. “We’re not really thinking about the tremendous good that can come from people sharing information with the right people in the right ways,” he said.

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