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Google faces new UK class action over DeepMind NHS patient data scandal – TechCrunch


Google is facing a new class action lawsuit in the UK in relation to a health data scandal that erupted in 2016, when it emerged that its AI division, DeepMind, had received data on more than 1 million patients under an app development project by the Royal Free NHS Trust in London – without patients’ knowledge or consent.

The Trust was subsequently sanctioned by the UK’s data protection watchdog who found in mid-2017 that it had breached UK data protection law when it signed the trust agreement. 2015 data sharing with DeepMind. However, the tech company – which had been contracted by the Trust to help develop an app wrapper for an NHS algorithm to alert clinicians to early signs of acute kidney injury (aka the Streams app) – has avoided the sanction since the Trust had been directly responsible for passing on patient data to him.

It is therefore interesting that this private litigation targets Google and DeepMind Technologies, several years later. (Although, if a claim for damages against one of the world’s most valuable corporations wins, there will likely be a lot more upside over litigation against a US-funded healthcare trust. State.)

Mishcon de Reya, the law firm which has been hired to represent the only named plaintiff, a man called Andrew Prismall – who says he is suing on behalf of around 1.6million people whose records have been forwarded to DeepMind — said the litigation would seek damages for the unlawful use of patients’ confidential medical records. The complaint is brought in the High Court of England and Wales.

The law firm also confirmed that the Royal Free was not being prosecuted.

“The claim relates to the misuse of private information by Google and DeepMind. It’s common law,” a spokeswoman for Mishcon de Reya told us. a claim for damages.”

A similar complaint, announced last September, was dropped, according to the spokeswoman – who confirmed: “This is a new complaint for misuse of private information.

In a statement on why he is suing Google/DeepMind, Prismall said, “I hope this case can reach a fair outcome and closure for the many patients whose confidential records have been – unbeknownst to the patients – obtained and used by these big tech companies.”

“This assertion is particularly important as it should provide much-needed clarity on the appropriate parameters within which technology companies may be permitted to access and use private health information,” Ben Lasserson, partner at Mishcon de Reya, added in a statement. another statement of support.

The firm notes that the litigation is funded through a litigation funding agreement with Litigation Capital Management Ltd, an entity based in Sydney, Australia, which it describes as an alternative asset manager specializing in litigation funding solutions to the international scale.

Google has been contacted to comment on the new combination, but as of this writing, the adtech giant has not responded.

There has been an increase in class action-type litigation targeting tech giants over data misuse in Europe, although a number have focused on trying to bring claims under data protection law. data.

One such case, a long-running class action lawsuit in the UK against Google related to a historic override of Safari users’ privacy settings, failed in the UK Supreme Court last year. However, Prismall is (now) suing for damages under the tort of misuse of private information, so the failure of that earlier UK case doesn’t necessarily have much relevance here.

This seems to explain why the previous lawsuit was dropped and a new one filed, however. “IIt is correct that the previous complaint was filed based on a breach of data protection law and the new complaint is filed for misuse of private information,” the Mishcon spokeswoman told us. de Reya when we asked about it.

While the DeepMind NHS patient data scandal may seem like (very) old news, there was a lot of criticism of the regulatory response at the time – as the Trust itself faced nothing more than damage to his reputation.

There was, for example, no order to tell DeepMind to delete patient data – and DeepMind was able to strike deals with other NHS Trusts to roll out the app despite it being developed without a legal basis valid for using patient data in the first place.

And while DeepMind had defended itself against privacy concerns attached to its adtech parent Google, saying the latter would not have access to sensitive medical data after the scandal broke, it then divested its healthcare division to Google, in 2018, i.e. the adtech giant directly took on the role of providing and supporting the app for NHS Trusts and processing patient data… (Maybe that’s why Google and DeepMind Technologies are named in the lawsuit.)

There was also the matter of the memorandum of understanding signed between DeepMind and the Royal Free which set out a five-year plan to build AI models using NHS patient data. Although DeepMind has always claimed that no patient data has been processed for AI.

In another twist in the saga last summer, Google announced it would shut down the Streams app – which at the time was still being used by the Royal Free NHS Trust. The Trust said it will continue to use the app despite Google’s announcement that it intends to decommission it, which raises questions about the security of patient data once support (e.g. patches Security) removed by Google.

While the tech giant may have hoped to put the whole saga behind it by quietly shutting down Streams, it will now either have to defend itself in court, generating further publicity for the 2015 NHS data misuse scandal – or offer to settle in order to make the costume go away quietly. (And litigation funders are, presumably, sniffing enough opportunities back and forth.)

The backlash against the tech giants dominating the market continues to fuel other types of class action lawsuits. Earlier this year, for example, a major lawsuit was filed against Facebook’s parent company, Meta, seeking billions in damages for alleged abuse of UK competition law. But the jury is out on which Representative Actions — or whether — Representative Actions targeting the data-handling habits of the tech giants will prevail.


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