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Google defends its activities in health, which worries in the United States

A partnership between Google and Ascension, a health organization, raises a wave of concern in the United States, a sign that the astronomical accumulation of personal data by the giants of Silicon Valley has more and more difficult to pass.

According to a Wall Street Journal article published on Tuesday, an American regulator has even opened an investigation into this joint project, dubbed “Nightingale Project”, named after a 19th century British nurse known for using statistics to improve medical care.

The agreement aims to collect and analyze the medical data of tens of millions of patients to help doctors better determine treatment and to ensure better administrative continuity.

Nothing new, according to Google. “Our work with Ascension is delivering the latest technology to a health service, as we do for dozens of other healthcare organizations,” said Tariq Shaukat, President of Google Cloud Products and Solutions.

The data concerned range from identification (names, dates of birth, address, family …) to the antecedents and laboratory analyzes, to the medications administered.

“Our partners use Google to manage the data of their patients, safely, and strictly respecting privacy,” he said in a statement issued after a first article in the American newspaper published Monday.

The technological group is particularly blamed for not having warned the people concerned.

– “Nothing secret” –

“Our work with Google is not secret,” said Eduardo Conrado, vice president of the health organization. “Google announced it in July (in a conference to analysts, Editor's note).” Ascension managers were informed, information sessions throughout the company were held (…) and First line nurses and doctors were not only informed but actively involved in the project. “

Ascension manages 2,600 institutions, including 150 hospitals and 50 nursing homes in 20 US states.

Both companies ensure that their project complies with the 1996 US Health and Health Insurance Act (HIPAA), which is a reference in this area.

It allows hospitals to share data with private partners, without necessarily informing patients, as long as this information only serves to help the organization in its health mission.

According to the agreement, Google will allow Ascension to transfer scanned information about their patients from their data centers on-site (in the institutions) to “their own Google Cloud environment, private and secure.”

It is this transfer that worries some observers. The New York Times, for example, ensures that “dozens” of Google employees will have access to this confidential data, according to internal documents.

The main subsidiary of Alphabet draws most of its lucrative revenues from targeted advertising on the internet, thanks to the data it collects on its users. She has been fined several times for managing this personal information.

– Artificial intelligence –

“To be clear: Ascension data can not be used for purposes other than the services included in this agreement, patient data can not and will not be combined with Google consumer data,” insisted Tariq Shaukat.

The group will provide Ascension physicians and nurses with tools that use artificial intelligence (AI) to “improve the quality of treatments”.

Google is not the only one to invest in the cloud (IT and remote storage services) and the AI ​​for health.

Amazon and Microsoft, just like Dell and IBM, have placed their pawns in this market that potentially will be worth billions of dollars in 3 or 4 years, according to experts.

“Each of these companies has its own approach,” says analyst Rob Enderle.

According to him, the cloud in health is crucial for the evolution of the sector, because patients' data are kept separately, in “silos”, which do not facilitate the access of professionals to the vital information they need. .

“It's a shame that this momentum of mistrust falls on this subject for Google,” he notes. “They are trying to do something right, and the Nightingale project is essentially designed to improve the quality of health care.”

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