In November 2018, leading UK AI company, DeepMind released information about how its health division would be moved to its parent group, Google.

The move is now taking place after a delay that has not been short of controversy, the BBC reports.

Upon the announcement of the reshuffle, DeepMind came under fire for allegedly failing to keep a promise it made to not give any NHS information to the Californian tech giant. In Google’s eyes, the global health division’s switch over would allow DeepMind’s Streams application the muscle it needed to expand overseas; the app currently helps medical staff to monitor patients with major kidney problems.

Controversy lay in the fact that the Streams app had previously revealed that it had processed the data of around 1.6 million patients without consents being in place. The UK’s data privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office decided that the hospital involved in the research – London’s Royal Free – had failed to implement adequate data protection measures, and as such had failed to protect patient privacy.

In 2016, following the controversy over the manner in which NHS data was being used, Mustafa Suleyman, DeepMind’s co-founder, said:

“DeepMind operates autonomously from Google, and we’ve been clear from the outset that at no stage will patient data ever be linked or associated with Google accounts, products or services.”

With that autonomy coming to a close, Google had to reassess contracts with NHS hospitals using DeepMind’s research data. The new chapter also spelt the end of the independent ethics panel that supervised the research.

DeepMind was also collaborating with Moorfields Eye Hospital, where the company was developing machine learning technology with London’s University College Hospital.

Google now says that these other NHS hospitals have decided to continue working together. However, one of the partner hospitals – Yeovil District – which had signed a five-year deal with DeepMind in 2017, took the decision to not transfer the deal to Google.

Speaking to the BBC, Yeovil District Hospital stated:

“Working with the DeepMind team, we found that Streams is not necessary for our organisation at the current time.”

In a subsequent post, Dr Dominic King, who is leading a hundred-strong team from DeepMind to Google Health, outlined why the switchover had taken so long, saying:

“Health data is sensitive, and we gave proper time and care to make sure that we had the full consent and co-operation of our partners.

“This included giving them the time to ask questions and fully understand our plans and to choose whether to continue our partnerships. As has always been the case, our partners are in full control of all patient data and we will only use patient data to help improve care, under their oversight and instructions.”

There are currently no plans in place to install a new ethics panel, and so it remains unclear as to who will supervise and monitor the work that Google carries out with NHS patient data. The staff are still in London, but whether they will stay there in the UK or not is another question.

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