The Google Health Data Project

In addition to your everyday digital footprint collection, Google is now planning on collecting your private health data with your consent...

The Google Health Data Project

In addition to your everyday digital footprint collection, Google is now planning on collecting your private health data with your consent.

Google’s restructuring in 2015 made the tech giant’s parent company become Alphabet Inc. Since then Alphabet’s portfolio now spans several industries and its subsidiaries include Verily, which focuses on life sciences and health data. Verily’s mission involves living “at the intersection of technology, data science and healthcare”. The company aims to “make the world's health data useful so that people enjoy healthier lives.”

In light of this statement, this month Verily has announced a collaboration with Stanford medicine and Duke University School of Medicine under the name of ‘Project Baseline’. A longitudinal study with approximately 10,000 participants, each followed over a minimum of 4 years. 

The study aims to collect participant information through clinical visits, wearable technology and sensors, interactive surveys and polls conducted via mobile. Verily states that the data collected will include ‘clinical, imaging, self-reported, physical, environmental, behavioural, sensor, molecular, genetic, and other health-related measurements.’ Biospecimens collected will include blood and saliva, among others. Genome sequencing will also be conducted on all participants. At this point it’s not clear what Verily’s end goal is in regards to the collected data, however the company has stated that the current aim is to ‘create a map of human health’.

Participant commitment may involve wearing a Verily smart watch on an everyday basis to collect your heart rate and other physiological information. Additional health appointments would need to be attended and participants would need to surrender all health records to Verily. Not only would you be monitored when conscious, but a sleep monitor would also have to be placed under your mattress, or anywhere you intend to sleep, for the duration of the study. 

The company will also need to be consistently updated on any 'significant life events’ in a participants’ life, such as a new job or death of a loved one. At these times a participant would also have to attend extra appointments and tests. 

The study obviously raises questions in regards to anonymity. Although the study will anonymize participants’ information, issues have been raised around the selling of this information and privacy. The question will be how well will the data be decoded and will big companies be able to overlap other large data sets such as census information to find out personal information? The Google Health Data Project will be hosted on Google Cloud Platform, which Verily has assured meets security standards. 

In the new world of biotech it’s important that companies and individuals examine how health information is being used and how it holds the potential to be exploited. Participants in this study will need to place their trust in Google and its privacy and security standards. It’s clear that technology is revolutionising the way we gather, store and sort our health data. 

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The Google Health Data Project

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The Google Health Data Project

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