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DeepMind won’t share patient data with Google ‘at this stage’, says company’s health boss

Amid concerns and questions around Google’s takeover of the DeepMind’s Streams app, Dominic King, the company’s health lead, promises that ‘at this stage’, nothing will change, and it won’t share any patient data with the internet giant

Google is taking over DeepMind Health’s Streams app, but DeepMind will keep hold of its contracts and the patient data it processes, for now, according to health boss Dominic King.

Yesterday, the company announced that the app, which is being used by NHS clinicians to identify people at risk of acute kidney injury by sending alerts to doctors and nurses, and uses patient data, will move over to Google.

The company called it a “major milestone” and added that one of the reasons DeepMind joined Google in 2014 “was the opportunity to use Google’s scale and experience in building billion-user products to bring our breakthroughs more rapidly to the wider world”.

DeepMind wants the Streams app to become an artificial intelligence (AI) powered “assistant for nurses and doctors everywhere”.

However, the news sparked concerns and outcry on social media, as privacy advocates and the public were worried this would have a significant impact on the use and privacy of patient data.

DeepMind has previously promised that patient data coming from the Streams app would never be linked with Google. This has particularly been the case when it comes to the Royal Free Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, where the Streams app has been trialled, after the arrangement sparked an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) following complaints from the public.

The company has promised that patient data will continue to be kept “strictly separate” from any Google projects or other products, and will follow strict audit procedures.

Read more about DeepMind

Julia Powles, a research fellow in law and technology at New York University’s law school, took to Twitter to vent her frustration, saying the deal was “totally unacceptable”.

“DeepMind repeatedly, unconditionally promised to never connect people’s intimate, identifiable health data to Google. Now it’s announced... exactly that. This isn’t transparency, it’s trust demolition,” she said.

DeepMind’s health boss, Dominic King, has defended the move, but added that he understands people have concerns, and promised that, for now, the data is safe.

“The public is rightly concerned about what happens with patient data,” he said on Twitter, in response to the concerns. “I want to be totally clear. This data is not DeepMind’s or Google’s – it belongs to our partners, whether the NHS or internationally. We process it according to their instructions – nothing more.”

“At this stage, our contracts have not moved across to Google and will not without our partners’ consent. The same applies to the data that we process under these contracts. All decisions about how patient data is processed will continue to lie with our partners.”

“So, to be absolutely clear, at this stage, our contracts have not moved to Google and nothing has changed in terms of where the data we process is stored. Nothing changes until trusts/hospitals consent and undertake any necessary engagement, including with patients.”

Independent review

Earlier this year, an independent review of DeepMind Health concluded the company must do more to assure the public their data is safe and provide more transparency.  

One of the key issues continues to be around data, particularly in the current climate, where “the tide of public opinion has turned strongly against the tech giants”, the review said.

It added that, in light of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, it is “hardly surprising that the public should question the motivations of a company so closely linked to Google as DeepMind Health”.

It pointed out that the public needs reassurance about the company’s business model, and that if it involves selling data, “either in a de-personalised form or in a raw form”, there would be “considerable sensitivity”. 

Read more on Privacy and data protection

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