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Nov. 11, 2019, 4:33 p.m. EST

Secret Google project is collecting personal health data on millions of people

‘Project Nightingale’ gathering data in conjunction with Ascension health system

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By Rob Copeland


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Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Google is engaged in a secret project with one of the country’s largest health-care systems to collect and crunch the detailed personal health information of millions of Americans across 21 states, according to people familiar with the matter and internal documents.

The initiative, code-named “Project Nightingale,” appears to be the largest in a series of efforts by Silicon Valley giants to gain access to personal health data and establish a toehold in the massive health-care industry. Amazon.com Inc. /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +0.03%  , Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +1.36%   and Microsoft Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207732364/composite MSFT +0.84%   are also aggressively pushing into health care, though they haven’t yet struck deals of this scope.

Alphabet Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -0.12%   /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG -0.18% Google began the effort last year with St. Louis-based Ascension, the second-largest health system in the U.S., with the data sharing accelerating since summer, the documents show. The data involved in Project Nightingale encompasses lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, among other categories, and amounts to a complete health history, including patient names and dates of birth.

Neither patients nor doctors have been notified. At least 150 Google employees already have access to much of the data on tens of millions of patients, according to a person familiar with the matter and documents.

Some Ascension employees have raised questions about the way the data is being collected and shared, both from a technological and ethical perspective, according to the people familiar with the project. But privacy experts said it appeared to be permissible under federal law.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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