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Google given patient data on uncertain legal basis

The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust should have asked for patients’ consent before sharing health data with Google, a senior data protection adviser at the Department of Health has said.

In a deal signed a year ago, the Google-owned artificial intelligence company DeepMind was granted access to the healthcare data of the 1.6 million patients that are treated each year at the three London hospitals run by the trust—Barnet, Chase Farm and the Royal Free.

DeepMind wanted the data to develop a patient app called Streams, which aims to identify patients at risk of acute kidney disease. Patients were not informed of the deal because Google said that it was covered by “implied consent”—a law that allows data to be shared for the purpose of “direct care”. 

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