Fall has finally set in across San Francisco, and we’re nursing our PSLs as we brace ourselves for the onslaught of Dreamforce, which will overtake SoMa (and the whole city, TBH) next week. Here’s what caught our attention this week as we finalized schedules and briefing books:
Paging Dr. Google?
This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google has secretly been receiving health data on millions of Americans from medical provider Ascension. The information, which is personally identifiable by patient name and birth date, reportedly includes diagnoses, hospitalization records, lab results and other information, in essence, providing a fully health history. According to the article, neither patients nor their care providers have been notified of the data sharing program.
Despite concerns that the program might run afoul of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the law includes provisions for hospitals to share data with their business partners without patient consent if the information is shared to assist the “covered entity carry out its health care functions.” To that end, Google says it is using the data to design new artificial intelligence software that provides personalized suggestions for patient care.
The disclosure of the data sharing deal with Ascension follows last week’s announcement that Google’s parent company Alphabet put out a $2.1 billion bid for fitness wearable maker Fitbit.
California sets data privacy standard
On Monday, Microsoft said it will honor the data privacy rights granted to Californians through the state’s unprecedented data privacy law and will expand that coverage throughout the country. As reported by The Verge, Microsoft Chief Privacy Officer Julie Brill posted a blog on the company’s site to announce that the company would extend the main rules laid out in the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which include disclosure of what personal data is collected, whether it is sold and to whom and to enable users to opt out of data sales.
“CCPA marks an important step toward providing people with more robust control over their data in the United States,” Brill wrote. “IT also shows that we can make progress to strengthen privacy protections in this country at the state level even when Congress can’t or won’t ask.”
$75 million fund promotes privacy, maybe?
The “hacktivist” group Anonymous on Wednesday said it had formed a venture fund worth $75 million in Bitcoin, designed to fund startups and entrepreneurs working on personal data protection solutions, and tools to ensure online anonymity as well as blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies. According to reports in TheNextWeb, The Unknown Fund, states that protecting personal data is one of the main challenges the world faces today. “The use of data has already become a powerful tool for manipulating people,” the fund’s announcement read, citing the example of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The news was greeted with skepticism by some. On Reddit, many commenters noted that there already exist plenty of privacy applications or plug ins, with one exchange reading: “This will end up being a scam of some kind,” which was met with the reply “probably already is.”