Google Gathering Health Care Data on Millions of Americans with Secret ‘Project Nightingale’

Zachary Evans

Google has teamed up with one of the largest health care systems in the U.S. to gather the personal health care information of millions of people in 21 states, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Named “Project Nightingale,” the initiative is one of the largest efforts by Silicon Valley tech companies to enter the lucrative health care industry. Google partnered last year with Ascension, the St. Louis-based health care system that is the second largest in the U.S., to collect and crunch health care data on a massive scale.

Patients and doctors have not been notified that their data is being shared.

The data involved includes lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, as well as patient names and dates of birth. Google and Ascension are essentially collecting patients’ complete personal health records. Patients and doctors have not been notified that their data is being shared.

Google aims to design new software with the data that will suggest improvements in patient care directly to individual patients. Ascension, a Catholic hospital network, wants to use the data to improve patient care, mining the data to suggest additional tests for patients.

According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, hospitals may share patient data with business partners without notifying patients as long as that information is “used only to help the covered entity carry out its health-care functions.”

Nevertheless, several Ascension employees voiced concerns regarding the ways Google and Ascension are gathering the data, according to internal documents reviewed by the Journal. While Ascension did not immediately comment on the report, a spokesman for Google said the project is completely in line with federal law.

About 150 employees across Google’s platform currently have access to specific personal data collected as part of Project Nightingale.

The news comes as calls to rein in big tech companies grow more popular on both sides of the political aisle, albeit for somewhat different reasons.

Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) has come out strongly against the involvement of big tech companies in the Chinese market and has campaigned against perceived bias against conservatives from these companies.

Meanwhile, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) has threatened to break up Facebook and other social media giants if she is elected president in 2020. She has suggested Facebook might help President Trump win reelection if that would profit the company.

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