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NHS Trust Under Fire For Mishandling Personal Data Given To Google DeepMind

A hospital in the United Kingdom is facing allegations that it failed to protect the privacy of its patients in sharing data with Google during a medical trial.

The UK’s Information Commission (ICO) has ruled that the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust provided details on 1.6 million patients to Google’s DeepMind division during the initial stages of an experiment to detect kidney injuries last year, the BBC reports.

The ICO added that the hospital did not also tell patients about how their data would be used.

The information gathered was used to develop and fine-tune an alert, diagnosis and detection system that could tell when patients are at risk of developing acute kidney injury (AKI). The results of the trial established an app called Streams that would help doctors spot at-risk patients.

Elizabeth Denham, information commissioner, issued a statement saying attempts to make creative use of personal data had to be carefully managed. She said,

The price of innovation does not need to be the erosion of fundamental privacy rights.

The trust has not been fined for this oversight, but it has signed an undertaking to make changes on how it handles information. It has promised to clarify the legal basis for any future trials with DeepMind and similar companies, clearly tell patients about their data-collecting, assess the impact this trial has had on privacy and evaluate the trial as a whole, sharing the results with the ICO.

The Royal Free said in a statement that it had fully cooperated with the investigation and welcomed whatever advice was given regarding handling patient data in the future. It pledged to make the necessary changes, as well.

The statement read, “We accept the ICO’s findings and have already made good progress to address the areas where they have concerns. We passionately believe in the power of technology to improve care for patients and that has always been the driving force for our Streams app.”

For its part, Google welcomed the “thoughtful resolution” to the problem, and added that it would rethink its approach to working with the hospitals. Dominic King, DeepMind’s clinical lead, and Mustafa Suleyman, DeepMind’s co-founder, said, “We underestimated the complexity of the NHS and of the rules around patient data, as well as the potential fears about a well-known tech company working in health.”

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