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Google's secret "Project Nightingale" collects personal health information from millions of Americans



Google is involved in a secret project with one of the country's largest healthcare systems to collect and process the detailed personal health information of millions of Americans in 21 states, according to the individuals familiar with the matter and the internal documents.

] The initiative, codenamed "Project Nightingale," appears to be the largest in a series of efforts by Silicon Valley giants to gain access to personal health records and make a name for itself in the massive healthcare industry.

Amazon.com Inc.,

Apple Inc.

and

Microsoft Corp.

They are also aggressively pushing for health care, although they have not yet reached any agreements in this area.

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Google began its efforts last year with Ascension in St. Louis, the second largest healthcare system in the US, whose data exchange has accelerated since the summer.

The data included in the Nightingale project includes, among other things, laboratory results, doctor's diagnoses, and records of hospitalizations, and provides a complete history including patient names and date of birth.

Neither patients nor doctors were notified. At least 1

50 Google employees already have access to much of the data from tens of millions of patients, according to a person familiar with the matter and the documents.

Some Ascension employees have asked questions about the way the data is collected and shared, both from a technological and ethical point of view, according to those familiar with the project. However, privacy experts said that this was permissible under federal law. Under this law, the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, hospitals can generally exchange data with business partners without notifying patients, provided that the information "is only used to inform the insured company in the performance of its health insurance [19659006] In this case, Google uses the data in part to develop new software based on advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning that focuses on individual patients to suggest changes in their care. Employees opposite

Alphabet Inc.,

Google's parents have access to patient information. Documents indicate that some employees of Google Brain, a scientific research unit, have recorded some of the company's biggest breakthroughs.

A Google spokeswoman said the project was fully in line with the Federal Health Act. It provides robust protection for patient data. An Ascension spokesman had no immediate comment.

Technology giants like Amazon and Apple are expanding their business to include electronic health records that include data on diagnoses, prescriptions, and other medical information. This creates both opportunities and leads to privacy concerns. Here is something to know. Photo composite: Heather Seidel / Wall Street Journal

Google and the nonprofit rise have parallel financial motives. So far, Google has commissioned dozens of engineers for the Nightingale project without charging for it, as it wants to use the framework to sell similar products to other healthcare systems. Its ultimate goal is to develop an omnibus search tool that can collect and host a variety of patient data in one place, as evidenced by documents.

The project is being developed under Google's Cloud business, where competitors such as Amazon and Microsoft are taking market share. Google CEO

Sundar Pichai

has repeatedly said this year that the search for new growth areas for clouds has priority.

Ascension, a Catholic chain of 2,600 hospitals, medical practices, and other facilities, aims in part to improve patient care. It is also hoped to retrieve data to identify additional tests that may be required, or other ways in which the system could generate more revenue from patients, as evidenced by documents. Ascension also strives to develop a faster system than its existing decentralized network for the electronic record.

Like many Silicon Valley peers, Google has occasionally criticized it for not doing enough to protect users' privacy. The YouTube department agreed in September to pay $ 170 million in fines and make changes to its practices to respond to complaints that it was illegally collecting child data to sell ads. YouTube has not admitted or denied wrongdoing.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google had hidden a bug that exposed hundreds of thousands of birth dates, contact information and other subscriber personal information to its now-defunct Google Plus social networking site. This was partly due to fears that the incident could trigger regulatory control. According to Google, it was beyond the legal requirements not to inform users.

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Meanwhile, legal attention has come into force. Federal and state investigators announced in the summer separate antitrust investigations at Google. The US federal agency is currently investigating whether Google's data collected by the flagship search engine, speakers, free email service and numerous other providers will give the company an unfair advantage over competitors.

Google has stated that its products expand consumer choice and are committed to helping with requests. Mr. Pichai announced new privacy policies for billions of Google users this year.

The company announced a $ 2.1 billion contract for portable fitness equipment last week

Fitbit Inc.,

That makes watches and bracelets that track health information like heart rate. Politicians of both parties criticized the deal quickly; Representative David Cicilline (D., RI), chair of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, warned that the Fitbit deal would give Google "deep insights into the US's most sensitive information."

The companies said they would be transparent about every bit of Fitbit data they collect.

The Nightingale project appears to be more comprehensive than other efforts Google has made in terms of health data. In September, Google announced a 10-year contract with the Mayo Clinic for storing the hospital system's genetic, medical, and financial data. At the time, Mayo officials said that data used to develop new software would be freed from information that could be used to identify individual patients before it was leaked to the technology giant.

Google was founded with the aim of organizing the world's information. Health has always been a magnet for executives. Google Health, a young company digitizing existing patient records, was discontinued in 2011 after three years of limited acceptance. Since then, Alphabet has spent millions of dollars on its Calico and Verily divisions, which aim to combat aging and alleviate disease.

Co-founder of Google

Larry Page,

A 2014 interview noted that patients who are concerned about the privacy of their medical records are too cautious. Mr. Page said, "We do not really think about the tremendous goodness that can come from people who exchange information with the right people in the right way."

Write to Rob Copeland under rob [email protected]

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