Google is currently collecting and using millions of people’s healthcare data without informing them, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
The company is calling the initiative “Project Nightingale” and it involves data from millions across 21 states in the U.S.
The company is doing the project with help from Ascension, a St. Louis-based healthcare system which is the second largest in the country. Efforts to collect data have been speeding up since the summer, and Google is one of a few large tech companies that are making forays into the healthcare space.
The data collected includes diagnoses, lab results and hospitalization records. Along with patient names and birth records, the data collected amounts to a complete health profile.
No one — not doctors or patients — has been notified about the data collection. Google employees already have access to the data of tens of millions of patients.
Some privacy efforts say that what Google is doing is not illegal, even as employees of Ascension have called the practice questionable due to its ethicality.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability act of 1996 allows hospitals to share data with business partners as long as it's used exclusively to “help the covered entity carry out its health care functions.”
Google is using the data to create new artificial intelligence (AI)-powered and machine learning software that would be able to suggest changes in patient care. Not only Google, but also some employees in other divisions of Google's parent company Alphabet, including Google Brain, have access to the data.
Alphabet said that the initiative has protections for the data and that it’s fully compliant with the federal health law.
Google Cloud President Tariq Shaukat said the ultimate goal of the project is to improve outcomes, reduce costs and save lives.
Eduardo Conrado, an executive vice president at Ascension, shared a similar sentiment.
“As the healthcare 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 healthcare providers.”