Google Whistleblower Calls for Transparency Around Big Tech’s Access to Health Care Records

In this photo illustration the Google logo is reflected in the eye of a girl on February 3, 2008 in London, England. Financial experts continue to evaluate the recent Microsoft $44.6 billion (?22.4 billion) offer for Yahoo and the possible impact on Internet market currently dominated by Google. (Photo by …
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An individual claiming to be the Google whistleblower who came forward about the tech giant’s secret access to millions of private health records is calling for full transparency, saying that patients must be given the opportunity to opt out of Google’s intrusive data collection efforts.

The Guardian published an anonymous column on Thursday in which the self-proclaimed whistleblower recounted working on Project Nightingale, a collaboration between Google and the American health system Ascension.

“I’d like to hope that the result of my raising the lid on this issue will be open debate leading to concrete change,” the whistleblower wrote. “Transfers of healthcare data to big tech companies need to be shared with the public and made fully transparent, with monitoring by an independent watchdog.”

The individual added: “Patients must have the right to opt in or out. The uses of the data must be clearly defined for all to see, not just for now but for 10 or 20 years into the future.”

Project Nightingale allowed Google to gain access to the private records of millions of U.S. patients without their knowledge or the approval of doctors. The Wall Street Journal first reported the breach earlier this week, saying Google was using the records to develop new artificial intelligence technology to help suggest different avenues of care for individual patients.

In the anonymous Guardian column, the whistleblower recalls initially feeling enthusiasm for the project.

“But over time I grew increasingly concerned about the security and privacy aspects of the deal. It became obvious that many around me in the Nightingale team also shared those anxieties,” the whistleblower wrote.

“After a while I reached a point that I suspect is familiar to most whistleblowers, where what I was witnessing was too important for me to remain silent.”

The whistleblower wrote that Google employees had access to the personal data of more than 50 million Americans. The individual, whose employment affiliation remains secret, claims to have worked with a team of 150 Google employees and about 100 Ascension staff.

The exact nature of the artificial intelligence applications was unclear throughout the project, according to the whistleblower.

Google has maintained that the project is fully compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

But since the initial report broke Monday, a federal inquiry has been opened to investigate the project. The Journal reported that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has initiated the investigation, and will look into possible privacy violations related to HIPAA.

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