Google canceled a project to publish more than 100,000 human breast radiographs online days before the data came alive after realizing that it contained personally identifiable information, reports The Washington Post .
The event took place in 2017 and was part of a joint project undertaken by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But it's especially relevant at a time when Google is rapidly moving into healthcare and is stealthily gathering medical data from millions of patients. As the search giant collects several of these sensitive records, many privacy advocates question whether it can rely on the information.
The Post & # 39; s story cites email and an interview with an anonymous source familiar with the project. It says that even though Google and NIH worked together to remove all identifying information from the X-rays, Google urged them to meet a self-imposed deadline and did not properly address these privacy concerns.
The plan was to publish the X-rays as part of a showcase for the medical potential of Google's cloud and AI tools. Datasets such as those collected by NIH are crucial for building new diagnostic tools that involve machine learning. Google has undertaken many research tasks like this, using similar data sets to predict the risk of heart disease by examining eye scans and detecting breast cancer from biopsies.
Google only realized that the X-rays still contained personal information after it was informed by NIH. According to Post this information included "the dates of the x-rays were taken and the peculiar jewelry worn by patients when the x-rays were taken."
Responding to Post 's story, a Google spokesman said: "We take care to protect patient data and ensure that personal information remains private and Sure … For an abundance of caution and for privacy reasons, we chose not to host the NIH dataset. We deleted all images from our internal systems and did not continue working with NIH. "
It is not the first mistake the company has made with medical data. In 2017, British subsidiary DeepMind was found to have broken the law in the processing of hospital records, and Google is also being sued for allegedly inappropriate access to medical data from the University of Chicago Medical Center.  Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal revealed details of Google's "Nightingale project", which collected medical data from millions of patients in 21 a US states as part of an agreement to improve the Ascension Medical Group medical record system.
The news triggered a government inquiry in which the Department of Health and Human Services announced that they will "seek to learn more information about this mass collection of individuals' medical records" to ensure that Google has not violated federal law.