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Project Nightingale: Google secretly collecting medical data of millions triggers federal inquiry

Google claims access to private medical records through deal with Ascension is 'standard practice' ( Getty Images )

A partnership between Google and America's second largest healthcare provider, which allowed the technology giant to secretly amass the health records of millions of patients is being investigated by US regulators. 

The probe "will seek to learn more information about this mass collection of individuals' medical records to ensure that Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act [HIPAA] protections were fully implemented", the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services said.

The initiative with healthcare company Ascension, dubbed "Project Nightingale", grants Google access to the private medical data and personal details of patients across 21 American states.

After reports emerged about the deal earlier this week, Google published a blog post claiming that such access was "standard practice" and did not breach regulations regarding the collection of patient data.

Tariq Shaukat, the head of Google Cloud, said the partnership aimed to transform the delivery of healthcare, while "improving outcomes, reducing costs, and saving lives".

Ascension said that all work relating to its engagement with Google is HIPAA compliant.

However, after reports about the deal emerged, some industry experts have claimed the revelations could do serious damage to Google's reputation when it comes to privacy.

"While we can't speculate on the legalities, we must keep in mind that data privacy and security are mission-critical in gaining wider trust and acceptance from all health stakeholders," Nardev Ramanathan, an analyst at data science firm Lux Research, told The Independent.

"Google's insatiable ambition to gain supremacy in healthcare without paying regard to this critical factor risks jeopardising everything it has worked for to gain momentum in this space."

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