Project Nightingale: Google probed over US patient data deal

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A doctor shows a patient medical information on a tablet computerImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Google’s deal with Ascension, a major health firm, has attracted criticism from some

Google is to be investigated over how it is accessing US patient data via a major health firm, the Wall Street Journal reports.

An office of the US Department of Health and Human Services will examine the details of a deal dubbed “Project Nightingale”.

Google said patient data was “secure”.

Separately, in the UK, the Financial Times (FT) reports that popular health websites are sharing sensitive data with firms including Google.

The Project Nightingale deal with Ascension – a firm that runs 2,600 hospitals in the US – attracted criticism from some when the Wall Street Journal revealed that Google could access patient data without them being notified.

Among those who expressed concern was Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski.

“Privacy protections, particularly when it comes to personal info like your health, is a high priority of mine,” she said via Twitter.

However, in a blog, Google argued that the deal “adheres to industry-wide regulations” and that access to patient data by its employees was controlled.

The tech giant said patient data would not be combined with customer data from other parts of its business.

It added that it was “happy to co-operate” with the federal inquiry.

In its own blog, Ascension said it looked forward to developing artificial intelligence tools for medical purposes with Google’s help.

Websites’ data shared

News of Project Nightingale coincided with an FT investigation that revealed how popular health websites in the UK frequently shared personal data with companies including Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Websites such as WebMD and Bupa used cookies – code added to web browsers – that allowed other companies to track users’ activity on the web.

The kind of data shared from health websites to others included medical symptoms, diagnoses, and menstrual and fertility information, as well as the names of drugs.

Google told the FT it had strict policies preventing advertisers from using sensitive data to target ads.

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