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Data protection advocates cry foul as Google takes over health records

While Google says it will continue to ring-fence the patient data, critics say the potential for abuse is significant

Bloomberg 

Google treats patient data as secret  intellectual property
Google treats patient data as secret intellectual property

Three years ago, company embarked on a landmark effort to transform in the UK. Now plans by owner Alphabet to wrap the partnership into its search engine business are tripping alarm bells about privacy.

advocates cried foul when the company reversed course on an earlier pledge to keep Health, which taps millions of British medical records to monitor and diagnose disease, separate from This month Alphabet said it plans to consolidate the businesses.

While says it will continue to ring-fence the patient data, critics say the potential for abuse is significant: What if the company later backtracks and pairs medical records with its search engine and Gmail app, which harbour extensive information on users’ daily lives? That would present a formidable risk to privacy, they say, and could cost patients and providers dearly if the company converted the data into high-priced products.

“Google turns patient data into secret intellectual property that ensures treating future patients will be very, very expensive,” said Deborah Peel, head of Patient Privacy Rights, a US-based advocacy group. “Corporations are governed by profits and Google Health is all about profits.”

Google will help bring Health’s benefits to more people around the world faster than it could have ever accomplished on its own, said Dominic King, a former surgeon in the UK’s National Health Service and helped develop an app, called Streams, for tracking severe kidney injury. is also developing systems for predicting eye disease and breast cancer risk. “I am excited to see our vision for Streams to become a reality at scale,” said King, who’s transferring into the new Google Health unit, in an email.

First Published: Wed, November 21 2018. 21:32 IST
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