Regulators Investigate Google Over Ascension Health Data Deal

Google is reportedly being investigated by US regulators over the cloud computing deal it has signed with a major US healthcare services provider.

Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal revealed that Google had gained access to a huge amount of healthcare data about 50 million Americans, after it signed a deal with Ascension.

Ascension is a Catholic non-profit entity that runs 2,600 hospitals in the US, and the data sharing scheme has been dubbed ‘Project Nightingale.

Federal investigation

But news of the deal has now triggered a federal investigation in the United States, the WSJ has now reported.

The St-Louis-based healthcare provider had reportedly stored its data on 50 million patients across more than 40 data centres in more than a dozen US states.

But Google and Ascension are now moving that data onto Google’s cloud platform, and this has resulted in a US federal regulator initiating an investigation.

The concern is that the deal will give Google access to detailed personal health information of millions of patients.

The WSJ reported that the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services will look into the data collection to ensure the partnership is in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

HIPAA is American legislation that is designed to protect medical information.

Standard practice

Google in a blog post earlier this week had insisted that patient data “cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data.”

“To be clear: under this arrangement, Ascension’s data cannot be used for any other purpose than for providing these services we’re offering under the agreement, and patient data cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data,” Google insisted at the time.

The Alphabet unit also insisted the deal is “standard practice” in the United States.

But there is concern that the deal will allow the search engine giant to access names, date of birth, addresses, lab results, diagnoses, records of hospitalisation etc.

Google is already facing an anti-trust investigation from the attorney generals from more than 30 US states, centred on alleged data collection and privacy anti-trust violations.

In July this year the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said it would investigate whether “market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.”

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Tom Jowitt @TJowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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