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Google’s Secret Health Data Grab: The Whistleblower Talks

This is the fourth whistleblower in the last eighteen months

In an op-ed at a British newspaper, Anonymous explains what led to telling the world that Google has been gathering identifying data on tens of millions of Americans in 21 states who use the Ascension health care system without doctors or patients knowing or giving consent:

I didn’t decide to blow the whistle on Google’s deal, known internally as the Nightingale Project, glibly. The decision came to me slowly, creeping on me through my day-to-day work as one of about 250 people in Google and Ascension working on the project…

Two simple questions kept hounding me: did patients know about the transfer of their data to the tech giant? Should they be informed and given a chance to opt in or out?

The answer to the first question quickly became apparent: no. The answer to the second I became increasingly convinced about: yes. Put the two together, and how could I say nothing?

Anonymous, “I’m the Google whistleblower. The medical data of millions of Americans is at risk” at The Guardian

One thing that spooked Anonymous was that the data of the 50 million Americans was not even “de-identified” when handed over (that is, personal identifies were not removed). Anonymous closes by stressing that AI in medicine can be a good thing, if handled right. But that’s where the evidence is pretty much wanting. The U.S. Senate is investigating. Stay tuned.

From our earlier roundup: The Nightingale sings—about your health data The skinny from Google’s health care data grab: Google, Amazon, and Apple are all competing for a lucrative share in the health care market in aging, First World nations. The giant data vacuum is usually sold to the public as a benefit, in this case to move the data to Google’s Cloud. But a much less benign picture is beginning to emerge.

Other Google whistleblowers of note:

Engineer Zach Vorheis sent nearly 1000 documents on algorithm bias to the DOJ (August 2019)

Engineer Gregory Coppola contacted watchdog group Project Veritas about manipulation of search engines for political purposes (July 2019)

Jack Poulson, a senior Google scientist, quit over Google’s comfy relationship with China, particularly “One thing that troubled Poulson was the practice of hosting of data on the mainland, where the government can use it to target activists and journalists. AI is warmly embraced by the Chinese government but in large part for the purpose of mass (and massive) surveillance.” (September 2018)

Some, including a prominent academic Robert Epstein, (who was a Hillary Clinton supporter in 2016) are concerned that Google might use its immense power to, for example, manipulate the US 2020 election.

Well, given that Google’s motto is do the right thing, perhaps top management can treat these episodes as a learning experience.

Further reading:

Would Google be happier if America were run more like China?


George Gilder: Why does Google seem to be having a corporate nervous breakdown? Gilder tells Forbes that its whole culture is “kind of self-defeating and wrong.”

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Google’s Secret Health Data Grab: The Whistleblower Talks