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Google may be secretly gathering millions of personal health records with alleged ‘Project Nightingale’

Google is secretly gathering millions of patient records across 21 states, in an effort dubbed ‘Project Nightingale’, reports the Wall Street Journal. Neither doctors nor patients were made aware of the effort, according to the report.

The Wall Street Journal’s Rob Copeland reports that the data amassed in the program includes “lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, among other categories, and amounts to a complete health history, complete with patient names and dates of birth.”

The tech giant reportedly partnered with health heavyweight Ascension, a Catholic healthcare system based in St. Louis that operates across 21 states and the District of Columbia. The company calls itself “a faith-based healthcare organization dedicated to transformation through innovation across the continuum of care.” According to the WSJ, Google is using data from the system to design software that tailors individual patient care using “advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

Google has been focused on healthcare for a while now, and their focus on the industry has only increased in recent years. Lately, its been competing with similar efforts at Amazon and Apple which are also trying to move into the lucrative healthcare space. Last year, Google hired a healthcare executive to oversee its many health initiatives. Around the same time, they announced plans to absorb AI lab DeepMind’s health care division, with the goal of creating an ‘AI assistant for nurses and doctors.’

The tech company has also been accused of inappropriate access to hundreds of thousands of healthcare records through the University of Chicago Medical Center. Google had partnered with the University of Chicago Medical Center in 2017 to develop machine learning tools capable of “accurately predicting medical events—such as whether patients will be hospitalized, how long they will stay, and whether their health is deteriorating despite treatment for conditions such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, or heart failure,” the company said in a blog post. The post also mentions that one of the company’s machine learning ambitions is to “anticipate the needs of the patients before they arise.”

The Verge has reached out to Google and Ascension for comment, and will update this with their response.

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