Google is not new to controversies, the most recent being the controversy with the Nightingale project that scientists worry might jeopardise trust in research. It has been learnt that Google had gained access to millions of people’s identifiable health-care data without getting their approval.
Recently, one of the biggest networks of health care in the United States called Ascension based in St. Louis, Missouri in conjunction with Google is working on a project named Nightingale in which there was access to the health-care data of millions of people which included identifiable data such as names, these people underwent treatment at facilities that is being run by the health network. Researchers are worried that this might ruin people’s trust in sharing their data and can imminently, affect academic research in the future.
According to The Wall Street Journal of November 11, Google has said the project is supposed to build technologies that would help Ascension provide better health care. Both Google and Ascension has said that during the process of accessing the data, they complied with the US laws that says to protect information for health-care. Lawmakers had issues with the fact that the data was gotten without the consent of the people plus it had data they could be identified with. ‘’This mass collection of individual’s medical records with respect to the implications for patient privacy’’ is being looked into according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Johan Ordish, a policy analyst at the PHG Foundation which is a charity in Cambridge, who studies health-care technology said ‘’this has shockwaves far beyond Google, far beyond the health-care sector’’ because scientists are worried that this will cause trust problems with people giving out their data for studies.
Google has already released a statement online on the 11th of November that it adhered to regulations regarding patient data while working with Ascension and Ascension also released a statement that the project was in agreement with the law and also the company’s requirements for handling data. Google (using its artificial-intelligence company) was involved in a data-privacy scandal with a group of London hospitals called the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust in 2016.
In other news, Facebook had also been involved in a controversy with a UK company called Cambridge Analytica in 2018, in which it was shown that Facebook gave access for researchers to personal data of millions of people on Facebook without the users’ consents. Facebook later agreed to pay a fine of US$100 million to the US Securities and Exchange Commission in July, 2019. A bioethicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Effy Vayena said this Google and Ascension’s Nightingale Project is far bigger than that of Facebook and Royal Free and can have deeper impact because people are more protective of their health care information.
It can be noticed that the main problem in all cases is the lack of regulation regarding personal data. Normally, scientists that need information for research purposes and not commercial must be approved by an ethical-review committee before they start a project meanwhile the ones for commercial purposes do not necessarily get reviewed the same way. According to Edward Meinert, at the University of Oxford, UK, ‘’the problem with these deals is that they’re not going through that type of rigorous process’’. Since people do not usually know the difference, ‘’at some point, all of the research will get a bad name. With these incidents, we undermine public trust to this whole enterprise. We have to be really careful’’, Vayena said.