WSJ: Google's 'Project Nightingale' Collecting Personal Health Info on Millions of Americans

Nick Kangadis | November 12, 2019
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It comes down to a question of how much of your information do you want big tech companies to have? Some people will say that the sharing of your personal information will help you in the end. Others will say that despite any possible positive outcome, their personal information is just that — personal. But what happens when those big tech companies don’t give you a say in the matter?

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Monday that Google has partnered with Ascension, the second-largest health system in the U.S., to push an initiative known as “Project Nightingale” in order to “collect and crunch the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states."

According to the WSJ:

Google began Project Nightingale in secret last year 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.

The data involved in the initiative encompasses lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, among other categories, and amounts to a complete health history, including patient names and dates of birth.

Oh, yeah. Google and Ascension are doing all of this without people’s consent.

Supposedly, the goal of ‘Project Nightingale’ is to collect patients data in order to better diagnose the patient. The program could suggest tests or spot something in a diagnosis that the doctor either might not have thought of or may have missed in their assessment of the patient.

That could be very helpful to the advancement of healthcare, but there are concerns — even by Ascension employees — over privacy.

Despite Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, as well as Amazon, Apple and Microsoft “aggressively pushing into health care,” “privacy experts” are saying that what they’re doing appears to be legal.

The WSJ also reported:

In a news release issued after The Wall Street Journal reported on Project Nightingale on Monday, the companies said the initiative is compliant with federal health law and includes robust protections for patient data.

Some Ascension employees have raised questions about the way the data is being collected and shared, both from a technological and ethical perspective, according to the people familiar with the project. But privacy experts said it appeared to be permissible under federal law. That law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, generally allows hospitals to share data with business partners without telling patients, as long as the information is used “only to help the covered entity carry out its health care functions.”

I’m conflicted on this one, folks. On one hand, I’m all for being able to better diagnose and treat patients who are in need of medical attention. However, I’m also all for it being up to the person as to whether or not to divulge personal information to giant corporations.

Heck, it doesn’t even have to be a giant corporation. For a society that’s all about choice and consent, it seems as though those parameters don’t apply to big tech companies.

File this one under “wait and see.”

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