Report: Google nearly made 100,000 chest x-rays public before an eleventh hour pullback

Tech giant Google almost made more than 100,000 private radiological images available to the public until a last-minute call from the National Institutes of Health screeched that move to a halt.

The Washington Post revealed the 11th hour decision—which occurred in 2017, but was never reported—in a story published Friday, Nov. 15. NIH and Google had been collaborating on a project, with the latter supplying tens of thousands of chest x-rays for the project.

However, two days before the images went public, NIH phoned Google, cautioning that some still contained details that could allow viewers to easily identify patients. In a rush to go public with the initiative, Google researchers had failed to obtain the proper legal agreements that cover patient privacy, the Post reported.

The story comes amid greater scrutiny of the tech company, which has also recently partnered with the Ascension hospital system on another data-sharing project that’s raised further privacy concerns. Google officials insisted that they’ve taken great care to safeguard data and no laws were broken, the story noted.

“We take great care to protect patient data and ensure that personal information remains private and secure,” said spokesman Michael Moeschler in regard to the NIH project. “Out of an abundance of caution, and in the interest of protecting personal privacy, we elected to not host the NIH dataset. We deleted all images from our internal systems and did not pursue further work with NIH.”

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