Potential class motion lawsuit accuses the College of Chicago of sharing identifiable affected person knowledge with Google

SAN FRANCISCO — In 2017, the College of Chicago Medical Middle introduced that it was teaming up with Google to make use of knowledge from sufferers’ digital medical information to attempt to make higher predictions and advance synthetic intelligence in medication.

Two years later, a regulation agency alleged Wednesday that the hospital handed huge quantities of knowledge over to the tech large with out eradicating probably figuring out info like physicians’ notes or date stamps of when sufferers checked out and in of the hospital. The swimsuit was filed on behalf of a single affected person, with the purpose of increasing it to a category motion swimsuit if extra sufferers come ahead.

The swimsuit underscores rising concern about affected person privateness as corporations search to mine the reams of well being knowledge saved in hospitals’ medical information methods to fine-tune their algorithms. If the swimsuit can appeal to extra plaintiffs, it might open up a brand new entrance within the debate over when and whether or not affected person knowledge may be really de-identified.


Google, the College of Chicago, and its medical middle had been all named as defendants within the potential class motion swimsuit, which was first reported by the New York Occasions.

Google and UChicago have lengthy mentioned that the collaboration solely concerned de-identified medical information and adopted the federal well being knowledge privateness regulation generally known as HIPAA.

The swimsuit alleges, nonetheless, that “in actuality, these information weren’t sufficiently anonymized and put the sufferers’ privateness at grave threat.” That’s partly as a result of Google has entry to huge and detailed details about shoppers that it collects by way of merchandise like its Android smartphones and Google Maps that it might probably use to establish sufferers, the swimsuit claims.

The swimsuit additionally claims that UChicago “didn’t notify its sufferers, not to mention receive their specific consent, earlier than turning over their confidential medical information to Google for its personal business achieve” and “engaged in a canopy as much as hold the breach out of the general public eye in order to keep away from the general public backlash.”

The information shared as a part of the collaboration coated sufferers seen at UChicago from 2009 to 2016. It was a part of a research, printed final yr, that analyzed digital well being document knowledge from greater than 216,000 sufferers seen at both UChicago or the College of California, San Francisco. Each knowledge units coated issues like affected person demographics, diagnoses, medicines, and important indicators, collectively amounting to 46.9 billion knowledge factors. Working with the information, Google and its educational collaborators educated machine studying fashions meant to foretell issues like whether or not sufferers would die within the hospital or be readmitted.

In contrast to the united states dataset, the information from UChicago included “dates of service” as effectively “de-identified, free-text medical notes.” That’s the excellence that prompted the swimsuit towards UChicago.

The swimsuit was filed by Edelson PC, a regulation agency that focuses on tech privacy-related class motion fits that was based by legal professional Jay Edelson, a longtime adversary of tech corporations.

The swimsuit was filed on behalf of a affected person named Matt Dinerstein, who was admitted to the UChicago hospital for 2 stays in 2015, throughout which he used a smartphone with Google purposes put in, in line with the criticism. 

It’s not unusual for regulation companies to file fits on behalf of a single plaintiff who feels wronged by a drug maker or well being care firm, in hopes of producing publicity that would flip into a bigger class motion swimsuit — and enterprise for the agency. Many such fits fail to draw further plaintiffs.

Requested for touch upon the swimsuit, a Google spokesperson mentioned: “We imagine our healthcare analysis might assist save lives sooner or later, which is why we take privateness severely and comply with all related guidelines and rules in our dealing with of well being knowledge.”

A spokesperson for UChicago’s medical middle mentioned its analysis partnership with Google was “acceptable and authorized.” The spokesperson referred to as the swimsuit’s claims “baseless and a disservice to the Medical Middle’s basic mission of bettering the lives of its sufferers” and mentioned the college and the hospital “will vigorously defend this motion in court docket.”