Google’s DeepMind has hit back at criticism of its partnership with London’s Royal Free hospital to develop an app that helps doctors and nurses rapidly identify and treat acute kidney injuries.
DeepMind’s co-founder, Mustafa Suleyman, said the company was better placed than any other to handle sensitive medical data, given its long history of securing highly personal information from other fields. He said: “As Googlers, we have the very best privacy and secure infrastructure for managing the most sensitive data in the world. That’s something we’re able to draw upon as we’re such a core part of Google.”
He added: “When we developed our information governance toolkit and we submitted that for assessment to the health and social care information centre (HSCIC), which approves these data-sharing agreements, we got 100% for our toolkit. There’s pretty much nobody else who’s been able to get a score as high as that.”
Suleyman said DeepMind’s information governance processes were awarded a level three certification by HSCIC, the highest possible. “The vast majority of other organisations in the country only have a level two, including most of the hospitals.”
Suleyman was speaking in the wake of a row over tDeepMind’s data-sharing agreement with the London’s Royal Free hospital, published by the New Scientist last week. In the document, the hospital agreed to share five years of historical data on patients, as well as real-time information on their status, which alarmed patient groups.
Acute kidney injuries kill 1,000 people a month, because of the difficulty in identifying problems and acting on them quickly enough. Suleyman said the timescale for an intervention is a matter of hours, but if the injury is caught early, “then with really simple and really cheap things like intravenous fluid and antibiotics, you have the potential to save that person’s life”.
The data-sharing agreement prevents Google from using the information in any other part of its business. It also requires DeepMind to delete its own copy when the agreement expires in September 2017. But the breadth and depth of the data being shared caused some to worry that the company had intentions to use it beyond the stated aims. Sam Smith, of the health data privacy group MedConfidential, said: “This is not just about kidney function. They’re getting the full data.