Google faces a lawsuit over DeepMind’s access to 1.6 million UK patients’ records

  • Google and DeepMind face legal action over access to millions of UK patient records in 2015.
  • DeepMind gained access to 1.6 million patients’ data in a deal with the Royal Free deemed to have broken UK law.
  • A UK law firm says it is planning legal action on behalf of a Royal Free patient and others.

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Google and its AI-focused subsidiary DeepMind face the prospect of a courtroom battle over access to British medical patients’ records. 

In 2016, a New Scientist investigation revealed DeepMind had gained extensive access to 1.6 million patients’ data as part of an arrangement with London’s Royal Free NHS Trust in 2015. The revelation triggered concerns that a US tech giant might use confidential patient data for profit.

In 2017, the UK’s data regulator ruled the Royal Free NHS Trust had breached UK law with the deal and said patients hadn’t been properly informed. The ruling didn’t directly criticize Google or DeepMind.

The controversy pre-empted Google taking control of DeepMind’s applied health operations, and the eventual winding down of its clinical app Streams, which ran on National Health Service patient data. 

On Thursday, London law firm Mishcon de Reya announced plans to bring a representative action against Google, in an attempt to address “the very real public concerns about large-scale access to, and use of, private health data by technology companies.”

In a press release posted on the law firm’s website, Mishcon de Reya said the suit was being filed on behalf of Andrew Prismall, a Royal Free patient who said he was “greatly concerned to find that a tech giant had ended up with my confidential medical records.”

“As a patient having any sort of medical treatment, the last thing you would expect is your private medical records to be in the hands of one of the world’s biggest technology companies,” he said in a statement.

“I hope that this case will help achieve a fair outcome and closure for all of the patients whose confidential records were obtained in this instance without their knowledge or consent.”

A spokeswoman for Mishcon de Reya said the claim had been issued in the High Court. Insider understands Google has not yet been served.

Google and DeepMind declined to comment.

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