Google’s Project Nightingale Secretly Gathered Millions of Patient Records

On November 11, reports emerged that Google had secretly gathered millions of patient records across 21 states without the knowledge or consent of doctors or patients, on behalf of a Catholic healthcare provider, Ascension. This effort was called “Project Nightingale” as part of an effort to use artificial intelligence to aid health services to tailor individual patient care. Eventually the data could be uploaded to Google’s cloud platform. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that the data collected included, “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.” As many as 150 Google employees could have had access to the data.

Google affirmed that it adhered to strict industry standards for patient privacy and security. “To be clear: under this arrangement, Ascension’s data 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,” Tariq Shaukat, Google Cloud President, wrote. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, it is also standard industry practice for a healthcare provider to share sensitive health data to tech workers in an agreement that allows tech workers to provide and build tools for the healthcare provider without informing doctors and patients.

Ascension stated that its work with Google complies with privacy laws. It is “underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort and adherence to Ascension’s strict requirements for data handling.”

As part of the project, Ascension uploaded patient data to Google’s Cloud servers. Ascension healthcare providers could use a tool, Patient Search, to search for patients and pull up their individual patient page. Forbes stated, “[t]he page includes complete patient information as well as notes about patient medical issues, test results and medications, including information from scanned documents.”

Other big tech companies, such as Apple and Amazon have also been trying to move into the healthcare field.

Google has been accused of wrongful access to hundreds of thousands of healthcare records through the University of Chicago Medical Center for machine learning healthcare to “anticipate the needs of the patients before they arise.” Google has partnered with the Mayo Clinic to transform patient and healthcare provider experience, such as using Google’s AI and cloud services in partnership with Mayo Clinic’s experience. 

Google made other efforts to move into the health sphere, such as its acquisition of Fitbit for $2.1 billion.