A controversial health app developed by artificial intelligence firm DeepMind will be taken over by Google, it has been revealed.
Streams was first used to send alerts in a London hospital but hit headlines for gathering data on 1.6 million patients without informing them.
DeepMind now wants the app to become an AI assistant for nurses and doctors around the world.
One expert described the move as “trust demolition”.
The news that Streams would be joining Google was announced in a DeepMind blogpost.
“Our vision is for Streams to now become an AI-powered assistant for nurses and doctors everywhere – combining the best algorithms with intuitive design, all backed up by rigorous evidence.
“The team working within Google, alongside brilliant colleagues from across the organisation, will help make this vision a reality.”
It is not only Streams that will be affected. The DeepMind Health division, which now has a partnership with 10 NHS hospitals to process medical data, will also fall under the remit of California-based Google Health.
Lawyer and privacy expert Julia Powles, who has closely followed the development of Streams, responded on Twitter: “DeepMind repeatedly, unconditionally promised to ‘never connect people’s intimate, identifiable health data to Google’.
“Now it’s announced… exactly that. This isn’t transparency, it’s trust demolition,” she added.
In response, DeepMind told the BBC: “Patient data remains under our NHS partners’ strict control, and all decisions about its use will continue to lie with them. The move to Google does not affect this.”
Privacy law broken
Streams began as a collaboration with the Royal Free Hospital in London to assist in the management of acute kidney injury. Doctors approached Google-owned DeepMind for help in developing software to help spot and alert clinicians about patients at risk.
Initially it did not use artificial intelligence, but still drew praise from the doctors and nurses using it because of the time it saved them in diagnosing and treating patients.
However, it emerged that neither the health trust nor DeepMind had informed patients about the vast amount of data it had been using.
DeepMind Health went on to work with Moorfields Eye Hospital, with machine-learning algorithms scouring images of eyes for signs of conditions such as macular degeneration.
In July 2017, the UK’s Information Commissioner ruled the UK hospital trust involved in the initial Streams trial had broken UK privacy law for failing to tell patients about the way their data was being used.
The controversy led to an independent review panel being set up to scrutinise DeepMind’s relationship with the NHS.
DeepMind confirmed to the BBC that the panel was “unlikely” to continue in its current form, given the US takeover of the health division.
It is not the first time an independent firm has been subsumed by Google.
Nest, which collects data from home security cameras, thermostats and doorbells, was set up as a stand-alone, with promises that no data would be shared with the search giant.
But in February it was merged with Google to help build “a more thoughtful home”.