Back in 2015, DeepMind, a Google company, signed a deal with the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust. The deal allowed DeepMind access to 1.6 million patients health information as well as the ability to develop an app called Streams. The Streams app focus was to monitor patients with kidney disease and alert the right clinician when a patient’s condition deteriorates.
However, it was discovered that the Streams app had access to other health information such as a patient with HIV and drug overdoses.
After a yearlong investigation, The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), who is the U.K.’s data protection watchdog, found that the deal between the two parties failed to comply with the data protection law.
ICO’s Elizabeth Denham said in a statement, “Our investigation found a number of shortcomings in the way patient records were shared for this trial. Patients would not have reasonably expected their information to have been used in this way, and the Trust could and should have been far more transparent with patients as to what was happening.”
In order to address the shortcomings of the deal, the ICO has asked the Trust to commit to making these changes:
- Establish a proper legal basis under the U.K. Data Protection Act for the Google DeepMind project and any future trials
- Outline how it will comply with privacy laws in any future trials
- Commission an audit of the trial to be shared with the ICO
If these changes are made, then the project will not be shut down.
The Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust said in a statement, “We accept the ICO’s findings and have already made good progress to address the areas where they have concerns.”
In addition, DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, released a statement, “In our determination to achieve quick impact when this work started in 2015, 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.”
Suleyman indicated that DeepMind has already taken steps in this regard. Steps include creating a new agreement in 2016 to replace the original 2015 version, publishing contracts, creating a public engagement strategy to be more transparent, and creating an independent review panel.