Privacy has always been a concern, but now more so than ever with the incredible advancements in technology. We regularly hear about security breaches where a system has failed and the personal information of the public is accessed. Mom and pop stores’ computers aren’t of major concern – although anyone holding credit card information is always a worry – rather, industry leaders including Facebook and Google raise the greatest alarm. This is especially true when it comes to our very personal and confidential medical information, yet Google is developing a program that already has access to those intimate details.
A platform to share information is what Google is all about, and let’s face it, healthcare is big business. The tech corporation has found a way to gain access to millions of people’s medical information through its secretive Project Nightingale. The venture started last year when Google partnered up with Ascension, the second-largest health organization in the United States, to start sharing data. Ascension has about 2,600 various medical facilities, and the information collected includes doctor diagnoses, hospital records, lab results, health history, patient names, and dates of birth.
Could Google’s access to such information without patients’ permission be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996? Some privacy experts say it doesn’t violate the law, because hospitals are usually allowed to share data with business partners without the consent or knowledge of patients, as long as the information is used “only to help the covered entity carry out its health care functions.”
Google plans to use the data to engineer new software that will utilize artificial intelligence to suggest changes in medical care to patients. The AI is being designed to read scanned images like MRIs and make predictions about risks and outcomes of certain medications and procedures. The data will then be shared to a central network that could be accessed by the health care provider and staff members at Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., plus employees of Google Brain.
The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services “will seek to learn more information about this mass collection of individuals’ medical records to ensure that HIPAA protections were fully implemented,” office director Roger Severino told the Wall Street Journal. While they’re at it, hopefully someone will thoroughly investigate Google’s security measures to protect all of that sensitive data.
The Greater Good?
Reportedly, Ascension did not tell doctors or patients about the plan to share information with Google. Of course, better health care for patients isn’t the only motivation behind the partnership. The company hopes to sell something similar to other health systems once Project Nightingale has been proven effective. In 2014, Google co-founder Larry Page indicated that people were too cautious about the privacy of their medical data, stating, “We’re not really thinking about the tremendous good that can come from people sharing information with the right people in the right ways.”
Some would argue that secretly collecting this information would not be considered “the right way.” In any case, we’re soon bound to see a lot more advertisements related to our health popping up every time we surf the internet or check out our social media pages.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.