Google’s ‘Project Nightingale’ Secretly Gathers Personal Health Data on Millions of Americans

November 12, 2019 Updated: November 12, 2019

Google has been working with one of the largest healthcare systems in the U.S. to collect and analyze the personal health information of millions of citizens across 21 states, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Tech giant reportedly teamed up with St. Louis-based Ascension, the largest non-profit health system in the country, last year, and the data sharing has accelerated since summer.

Code-named Nightingale, the project saw both companies collect personal data from patients, which included lab results, doctor diagnoses, and hospitalization records, as well as patient names and dates of birth.

Google said it plans to use the data to create new software that will improve patient care and suggest changes to their care.

Patients and doctors were not notified that their data is being shared, and did not give their consent, according to the report.

One individual who was familiar with the project told the Journal that at least 150 Google employees already have access to much of the data on tens of millions of patients.

Just hours after the secret project was revealed, the two companies announced the collaboration in a press release, in which they said the joint project would see Ascension’s data moved onto Google’s Cloud platform.

The statement said the joint project aims to “optimize the health and wellness of individuals and communities and deliver a comprehensive portfolio of digital capabilities that enhance the experience of Ascension consumers, patients, and clinical providers across the continuum of care.”

Eduardo Conrado, Executive Vice President of Strategy and Innovations at Ascension, said: “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.

“Doing that will require the programmatic integration of new care models delivered through the digital platforms, applications, and services that are part of the everyday experience of those we serve.”

The partnership will also explore artificial intelligence and machine learning applications to help improve clinical quality, and effectiveness, patient safety and increase consumer and provider satisfaction, according to the statement.

Tariq Shaukat, President of Google Cloud, added: “Ascension is a leader at increasing patient access to care across all regions and backgrounds, particularly those in disadvantaged communities. We’re proud to partner with them on their digital transformation.

“By working in partnership with leading healthcare systems like Ascension, we hope to transform the delivery of healthcare through the power of the cloud, data analytics, machine learning, and modern productivity tools—ultimately improving outcomes, reducing costs, and saving lives.”

Ascension also said that its work with Google had been compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act 1996 (HIPAA) and “underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort and adherence to Ascension’s strict requirements for data handling.”

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