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Google Responds To Reports Of Its Not-So-Secret Health Data Collection

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Google responded to a report that revealed the tech giant was working on a secret project to collect health data on millions of Americans.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Monday on Google’s partnership with Ascension, the second-largest health care system in the U.S., in its effort to create software using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to analyze patient information and give people recommendations to improve their health as part of a not-so-secret project titled “Project Nightingale.”

Google Cloud President of Industry and Solutions Tariq Shaukat said in a press release that it is “proud” of its partnership with Ascension “to support them with technology that helps them to deliver better care to patients across the United States.”

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“Our work with Ascension is … a business arrangement to help a provider with the latest technology, similar to the work we do with dozens of other healthcare providers. These organizations, like Ascension, use Google to securely manage their patient data, under strict privacy and security standards,” Shaukat explained in the release.

Shaukat went on to explain that Google’s partnership with Ascension will shift medical information to Google Cloud to make it more easily accessible to medical professionals, enhance medical employees’ ability to communicate with each other and provide AI tools to Ascension to provide better care for patients.

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The Google Cloud exec added that the data shared between Google and Ascension “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.”

Ascension also affirmed the partnership just hours after TheWSJ published its report.

“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,” Ascension Executive Vice President of Strategy and Innovations Eduardo Conrado said in a statement.

“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,” Conrado continued.

Google spokesperson told TheWSJ that Project Nightingale is compliant with federal health law. Ascension similarly said the project is compliant with U.S. law and is “underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort,” according to Forbes.

Privacy experts also told WSJ that the type of information being collected is not illegal under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which gives hospitals permission to share some data with certain businesses so as long as it is used “to help the covered entity carry out its health care functions,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

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