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NHS' DeepMind Data-Sharing Deal Potentially Puts Patient's Privacy at Risk, Say Analysts

( [email protected] ) Nov 23, 2016 03:42 PM EST
Analysts have recently probed questions on NHS (National Health Service)'s deal with DeepMind, with allegations that the contract includes a data-sharing clause that will put patients' privacy at risk.
DeepMind faces public scrutiny amidst NHS data-sharing deal. TechCrunch.

Analysts have recently probed questions on NHS (National Health Service)'s deal with DeepMind, with allegations that the contract includes a data-sharing clause that will put patients' privacy at risk.

DeepMind, a UK-based company deemed as "the world leader in artificial intelligence research and its application for positive impact," just got a five-year contract with the NHS Royal Free Hospital Trust in London, the publicly funded national health care system in the United Kingdom. The goal of the contract is for DeepMind to sieve through fifteen years' worth of patient data (years 2011- 2026) that can then give clues to the healthcare system's trends, strengths and weaknesses. Analyzed data will also be used to provide guidance for early detection of illness.

The contract was described by the NHS and DeepMind as "landmark" and "groundbreaking."

DeepMind is set to expect data from over 1.6 million patients every year, and is also expected to develop an app called Streams, an e-health innovation that can help connect kidney patients with their doctors whenever any physical and physiological needs arise. The doctors will be alerted once the app detects an abnormality in the patient's constitution. Detection will be made through the use of nodes attached to a smartphone.

With DeepMind already preparing for launch, concerns were raised when the agreement was amended last year. With the new contract, DeepMind will have access to data that may have not been agreed to for sharing by the patient. Patients who will have their data submitted to DeepMind should be signing a Freedom of Information Request; but with the new contract, this document seems to be all but a formality.

Eerke Boiten, Director of the Centre for Cyber Security Research at the University of Kent says, "The big question that we had six months ago, 'why do they (DeepMind) feel they are allowed to have the data of more than a million and a half patients?'"

DeepMind Co-founder Mustafa Suleyman defends the company's agreement to the contract, "We absolutely had good reason to access it (patients' data) in the first place. We're acting as a processor on behalf of the controller."

Suleyman was also quick to add that he thinks DeepMind is being probed unfairly, and that there's a possibility that this issue is being "driven by a group with a particular view to peddle."

He also adds that the company only accepted a "modest service fee" for the deal, because he and the team view the five-year contract as part of their social responsibility.

Director Boiten laments, "It is the monetization of UK health data happening here."