Google and the University of Chicago Are Sued Over Data Sharing [telecom]

The lawsuit demonstrates the tension between building A.I. systems and protecting the privacy of patients.

By Daisuke Wakabayashi

SAN FRANCISCO - When the University of Chicago Medical Center announced a partnership to share patient data with Google in

2017, the alliance was promoted as a way to unlock information trapped in electronic health records and improve predictive analysis in medicine.

On Wednesday, the University of Chicago, the medical center and Google were sued in a potential class-action lawsuit accusing the hospital of sharing hundreds of thousands of patients' records with the technology giant without stripping identifiable date stamps or doctor's notes.

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***** Moderator's Note *****

On first glance, this isn't related to telecommunications - except it is.

HIPAA has exceptions that facilitate statistical analysis, which is one of the most important tools available to researchers who study environment-sensitive diseases such as cancer. I agree that they need that data, but ISTM that HIPAA is being honoroed more in the breach than in the observance.

Database providers have been relying on a work-around hack called "Tokenization" to meet HIPAA privacy requirments. In theory, it's simple: a name like "Bill Horne" becomes "B243677 H38fr05," and my social security number becomes "987-65-4321," and my date of birth becomes "2204-05-31" - and then the data can't be tied to an individual named "Bill Horne". In theory.

Sad to say, the theory doesn't work when it meets business reality: marketers at the database companies don't want to know that B243677 H38fr05 had cancer: they can't sell that fact. They want to be able to tell their clients - such as HR departments in mid-to-large-sized corporations - that they can enter "Bill Horne" into the web interface of a server located in Sri Lanka or Mexico or Kazakhstan, and find out that B243677 H38fr05 might raise their group health-insurance rates and miss a lot of man-hours.

Of course, there are other customers: the morticians at Forest Yawn, hedge-fund managers looking for hidden toxic-waste dumps, medical-tourism salesdroids pitching offshore medical miracles, car salesmen hawking loan insurance with "no physical required," politicians willing to pretend they care about B243677 H38fr05's health, and touchy-feely worthy causes seeking to be included in Mr. H38fr05's last will and testament. The list goes on and on ...

There's more than one way to skin a regulation, and the "Tokenized" data can be traced back to an individual when combined with other databases - wait for it - such as those available from cellular companies.

If B243677 H38fr05 had a polyp removed from his colon at the Dana Farber Cancer institute on 2268-01-06, and a cellular phone belonging to Bill Horne was at that location on that date, and placed or received calls from a physician who performs colonoscopies at Dana Farber, then the Tokenized data has just become part of token security.

Bill Horne Moderator

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Monty Solomon
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