Skip to Content
Silicon Valley

Google’s decision to absorb DeepMind’s health division has sparked privacy fears

November 14, 2018

Google is set to take control of its subsidiary DeepMind’s health division, raising concerns that the company will be able to access personal, identifiable health data.

Some background: Google acquired London-based artificial-intelligence startup DeepMind in 2014 for $500 million. DeepMind is best known for its AlphaGo algorithm, which beat the world champion of strategy game Go in 2016, but it has expanded its AI capabilities into new areas, including health care. It’s been put to impressive use, notably helping to speed up diagnoses.

Streams of data: DeepMind aims for its mobile app Streams to become an AI assistant for nurses and doctors, using real-time patient data. It’s being used in several NHS hospitals. It will now be controlled by parent company Google, DeepMind’s founders announced in a blog post.

Broken promises? DeepMind has repeatedly promised never to share data with its parent company. It seems to be weakening that commitment. DeepMind's customer the Royal Free Hospital was found to have breached UK data protection laws in July 2017 over the handling of NHS patients’ data by the Streams app.

In July an independent ethics board said it needed to do more to establish its independence from its parent company. The decision to hug Google more tightly will surely deepen fears it isn’t truly committed to patient privacy.

DeepMind's response: A spokesperson said, "Our contractual agreements with existing partners, and their restrictive rules on patient data, are still in force and unchanged. Patient data remains under our partners’ strict control, and all decisions about its use will continue to lie with them. The move to Google does not affect this."

This story first appeared in our daily newsletter The Download. Sign up here to get the news first!

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.