‘They Are The Stewards Of The Data’: Google Defends Deal That Could Give It Access To Health Data On Millions Of People

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
google doodle health data
Google has come under scrutiny after a deal, referred to as “Project Nightingale”, that would give the tech giant access to people’s personal health data. Image by Autumn Keiko

Google has defended a cloud computing deal with a healthcare customer that could give the tech giant access to “detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states” in the U.S.

Google confirmed in November that it is collecting the comprehensive health histories of millions of Americans, through a partnership with the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S., St. Louis-based Ascension, a nonprofit Catholic health system.

Google came under scrutiny after The Wall Street Journal reported that the deal – now referred to as “Project Nightingale” – would give it access to personal health data.

Access to people’s health data

“Our work with Ascension is exactly that — a business arrangement to help a provider with the latest technology, similar to the work we do with dozens of other healthcare providers,” Google’s Tariq Shaukat wrote in a blog post defending the tech giant.

“These organizations, like Ascension, use Google to securely manage their patient data, under strict privacy and security standards. They are the stewards of the data and we provide services on their behalf.”

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In a letter to Google, four Democratic leaders said the agreement was “disturbing,” particularly because Ascension hadn’t notified patients about the partnership. They demanded more information via briefings by Dec. 6.

The Journal reported that neither patients nor doctors have yet been notified and “at least 150 Google employees already have access to much of the data on tens of millions of patients”.