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I’m not feeling lucky — Google’s privacy issue

It is rare to maintain a sense of discretion in the age of the Internet, but it is particularly egregious when the private information of individuals is sold without one’s knowledge. 

The Wall Street Journal revealed that healthcare company Ascension, has partnered with Google to improve the service’s artificial intelligence technology under the moniker of Project Nightingale. 

Google assures that this affiliation will help “shift Ascension’s infrastructure to the cloud, use G Suite productivity tools,” and “extend tools to doctors and nurses to improve care.” The media giant also persists that the partnership with Ascension adheres to industry-wide regulations including the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. 

Despite these assertions, patients and physicians were not notified that private health information would be passed on to Google. As Professor Jane Kaye from the University of Oxford relayed to BBC News, “There’s a massive issue that these public-private partnerships are all done under private contracts, so it’s quite difficult to get some transparency. Google is saying they don’t link it to their other data but what they’re doing all the time is refining their algorithms, refining what they do and giving them[selves] market advantage.”

BBC also reported that patients do not need to be made aware of the release of such information. As a result, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights wishes to launch an investigation regarding whether Google is truly following privacy law regulations or not. 

Although automated and artificial intelligence may significantly advance due to the partnership of the two companies, it poses a convincing threat toward the protection of confidential information and what will become of it once in the hands of others. Google is no stranger to the documentation and manipulation of information — Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, maintains that Google filters out certain search results based on what an individual user has previously clicked on or searched for.

If Google is able to manipulate users with something as simple as a search, what capabilities would they possess when provided with private medical documents? Medical information could potentially be sold to companies for advertising purposes or used by pharmacies to sell medications and products that individuals do not need. Additionally, if insurance companies were to get ahold of it, they could decline clients that need extensive medical care, causing them to become uninsurable.

It is evident that an abundance of change needs to be made within privacy regulations. As HIPAA was enacted in 1996, it seems time for some reviews and alterations within a Google-driven age.

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