I didn’t decide to blow the whistle on Google’s deal, known internally as the Nightingale Project, glibly. The decision came to me slowly, creeping on me through my day-to-day work as one of about 250 people in Google and Ascension working on the project.
When I first joined Nightingale I was excited to be at the forefront of medical innovation. Google has staked its claim to be a major player in the healthcare sector, using its phenomenal artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools to predict patterns of illness in ways that might some day lead to new treatments and, who knows, even cures.
Here I was working with senior management teams on both sides, Google and Ascension, creating the future. That chimed with my overall conviction that technology really does have the potential to change healthcare for the better.
But over time I grew increasingly concerned about the security and privacy aspects of the deal. It became obvious that many around me in the Nightingale team also shared those anxieties.
After a while I reached a point that I suspect is familiar to most whistleblowers, where what I was witnessing was too important for me to remain silent.
Two simple questions kept hounding me: did patients know about the transfer of their data to the tech giant? Should they be informed and given a chance to opt in or out?
The answer to the first question quickly became apparent: no. The answer to the second I became increasingly convinced about: yes. Put the two together, and how could I say nothing?