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Whistleblower says Google is collecting personal medical data of 50 million people from health providers

The anonymous Google employee shared the information in a video online.

Google HQ in Mountain View, California.
Google HQ in Mountain View, California.
Image: Shutterstock/achinthamb

A WHISTLEBLOWER WHO is working on project nightingale, the secret transfer of personal medical data of 50 million Americans from health providers, has posted a video online detailing the large swathe of personal information that has been collected. 

The video posted on social media site, Daily Motion, questions how the data which is stored on a cloud platform, will be used. 

Google on Tuesday defended the project and said collaboration was an effort to improve patient care through computing tools. 

Reports that Google was amassing medical data prompted a blog post by the Internet giant revealing a project code-named Nightingale, evidently in tribute to Florence Nightingale whose nursing work during the Crimean War in the 1850s is credited with turning such work into a profession.

The news also caused the US Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services to launch an inquiry to make sure Google was obeying laws regarding keeping people’s medical information private, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In the post Tuesday, Google released information about a collaboration with US health systems non-profit Ascension that includes moving data and analytics to a private, secure cloud hosted by the internet firm.

Ascension could also use Google computing tools to allow employees to communicate and collaborate securely in real-time from different sites, according to the post by Google cloud industry products and solutions president Tariq Shaukat.

“All of Google’s work with Ascension adheres to industry-wide regulations regarding patient data, and come with strict guidance on data privacy, security and usage,” Shaukat said.

“To be clear, under this arrangement, Ascension’s data cannot be used for any other purpose than for providing these services we’re offering under the agreement, and patient data cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data.”

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, however, the anonymous whistleblower said that the full name and medical history of individuals was fully accessible by Google employees. 

They also say that documents have shown concerns raised by the health care provider about how the personal information will be used. 

“Most Americans would feel uncomfortable if they knew their data was being haphazardly transferred to Google without proper safeguards and security in place. 

“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.

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

Google’s cloud team works with dozens of healthcare service providers on technology to analyze medical data and make it readily available to patients and those treating them, according to the company.

The internet colossus disclosed little about what it is testing in Project Nightingale as it competes to be the preferred platform for patients and care providers.

“It is a shame that the rush of distrust is hitting this one for Google,” said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.

With reporting from AFP. 

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