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Google sued for inappropriately accessing private medical data

The suit could slow down Google's ambitions to enter the medical sector in a major way.

A potential class-action lawsuit is filed against Google this Wednesday accusing the tech giant of inappropriately accessing medical records of hundreds of thousands of patients at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Several times in the past, tech giants such as Google and Microsoft have shown interest in working with the healthcare sector by building tools that utilize the patient data. However, such attempts were met with great resistance by privacy advocates around the globe because handing over the healthcare data of a population might potentially give away highly sensitive data to the tech giants.

The lawsuit concerns a deal made between Google and the University of Chicago Medical Center in 2017. It was said that Google was given access to records of patients admitted at the medical center between 2009 and 2016 for developing AI tools.

When the deal materialized, Google released a blog post stating that machine learning and advanced machine learning can help predict several medical conditions and discover patterns in “de-identified medical records.”

“As part of this research, our healthcare partners ensured that patient data was appropriately de-identified prior to sharing,” wrote Google.

The lawsuit, however, claims that the tech giant had potentially violated a federal health data privacy known as HIPAA by accessing records of when patients were admitted and discharged. The lawsuit further added that such records, combined with the location data collected by Google’s Android OS, can reveal patient identities.

It was reported that the information covered in the records included the height, weight, vital signs and whether an individual suffered from terminal illnesses such as Cancer and AIDS. The lawsuit accuses the Chicago Medical Center of failing to obtain consent from patients and notifying them before their records where handed over to the tech giant.

It is interesting to note that this lawsuit is similar to the accusations and complaints made against DeepMind, a subsidiary of Google’s AI. DeepMind too made a deal with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) for developing an app for doctors and nurses.

Both the defendants Google and the University of Chicago deny the claims and have said that the accusations made by the Times hold no merit.

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