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Google's problems handling patient medical data, and more

☕ Good morning! I didn't see the sun at all yesterday so Mercury's transit was a little more hidden than what you might expect. Also, sadly, we lost Stan Lee a year ago today :(


Google’s health care data hoovering

The big story overnight is Google’s involvement in healthcare, working with Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the US, a Catholic chain of 2,600 hospitals, doctors' offices and more.

The problem is the WSJ broke the news that Google has quietly (or secretly) been working with millions of people’s health data in the US, without their knowledge, under a project called “Nightingale”.

The problem is obvious:

  • Google is, primarily, an advertising business. 
  • Amassing data from 21 states without informing patients or doctors sounds bad.
  • The fact that both Ascension and Google quickly released announcements about how “proud” they are to do this work is difficult to understand, given it was only mentioned briefly in July.
  • Trust in big tech is at a low.


  • Look, I don’t know about this one. 
  • But this, specifically, isn’t as bad as it seems. 
  • Government regulation around patient data is actually pretty good under HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. 
  • The reporting indicates that Google Cloud is providing a vendor service to Ascension for moving patient data to the cloud, and working on a search product that allows Ascension doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers to quickly find and help patients.
  • That doesn’t seem too bad: yes, it’s more encroachment of one of the giants of tech into yet another industry, but healthcare software and systems are, to paint with a broad brush, terrible.
  • Numerous studies have shown that doctors spend more time on documentation than interacting with patients.
  • Those working in healthcare are noting that de-identified third-party patient data is commonly shared and analyzed with third-parties to provide a better understanding of patient needs, how to provide better care, and so on. 
  • Those that run hospitals are not always good at running big data studies, in short.
  • Google says, specifically: “To be clear: under this arrangement, Ascension’s data cannot be used for any other purpose than for providing these services we’re offering under the agreement, and patient data cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data.
  • A revolution in healthcare would be a good thing. The problem is that installing a for-profit, occasionally troubled, entity like Google at the helm isn’t exactly desirable.

But, but:

  • Forbes, which has some additional reporting, including screenshots of the Google/Ascension workings, did find more reason to be concerned. 
  • Stacey Tovino, a bioethics expert and law professor at the University of Nevada, noted:
  • “De-identification is getting to the point where it’s almost a myth" because of advances in big data analytics and machine learning.
  • Tovino also noted the obvious connection and privacy concerns between large tech companies handling medical records, while they also “store vast amounts of data about search and location history for people.”
  • And there’s the new Google acquisition of Fitbit, too, which really does correlate rather well with Google’s ambitions to get into healthcare, and the money in healthcare, more specifically.
  • Oh, and Google is doing the work for free for the nonprofit Ascension, with the WSJ noting that Google hopes to build the infrastructure to sell this to other healthcare providers.
  • Which probably rankles some people! The implications being that anything free actually makes consumers and their data the product.
  • Ultimately, no matter how valid the work may be, I don’t think anyone says this is what creates and builds trust in the community.

Round Up:

📺 Disney Plus is now live, a little ahead of schedule: Everything you need to know (Android Authority). One nice surprise: The entire Star Wars series has been remastered in 4K with Dolby Vision and Atmos support.

🦥 Google plans to give slow websites a new badge of shame in Chrome (Android Authority).

📂 “What I want from Motorola’s foldable RAZR reboot” (Android Authority).

💻 A week or two ago we ran the first reviews of the Microsoft Surface Pro X, which were not good. Wired’s later review is brutal: “The Surface Pro X will go down in history alongside Microsoft Bob and Clippy as one of the worst mistakes it has ever made. I expect it will be quietly discontinued in a year or so.” (Wired).

🍎 Two big stories agree: Apple eyes 2022 release for AR/VR gaming headset (The Information, Bloomberg). Also, this big number: “Apple has about 1,000 engineers working on the AR and VR initiative.”

🆕 Also, part of the reporting suggests a new iPad Pro in early 2020, with a dual-camera (9to5Mac).

🚫 Apple has lost one its streaming service's top executives, just a couple of weeks after TV+ went live (Deadline).

🕶 Snap Spectacles 3 reviews are out: A better, more sophisticated novelty with limited appeal, and at $380, pricey (Engadget).

🎮 It’s weirdly taken until Google Stadia is a week away, but we finally know what games are launching with the service, and it includes Red Dead Redemption 2 (Android Authority).

🚀 SpaceX successfully launched its second set of 60 Starlink satellites, and Falcon 9 landed safely on a platform in the Atlantic Ocean (Space).

👟 Adidas backpedals on robotic shoe production, closes factories (TechCrunch).

🚕 Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick sold half a billion dollars in stock after lockup period ended (CNBC). Still owns more than 75 million shares in Uber, or around $2bn on current prices.

🥛 “I’ve eaten a meal replacement shake twice a day for two years. Here’s what it was like” (Vox.com).

🌞 Nice photo of Mercury’s transit across the sun (AP).

🤔 What is a seemingly harmless parenting mistake that will majorly f--k up a child later in life? (r/askreddit)

Chart Tuesday

The Bitcoin Rich List, or the number of addresses holding more than 1,000 BTC, has grown in the past 12 months:

  • Analysts suggest it’s either more wealthy people investing the $8.7m of USD required to acquire those Bitcoins, at the current price.
  • Or, it’s large crypto exchanges and other holders following safer practices and moving Bitcoins into cold-storage addresses.
  • Indications are it’s the former, not the latter.



The Advantages of Setting Up a VPN on Your Router 

You connect to a router to access the internet at home or at the office every single day. The action has become as seamless as an automatic door at the entrance of a grocery store. However, like any storefront, a router has the tendency to let anything in and out of its network, and prevent users from accessing certain information. 

Setting up a VPN gives users more freedom online, but they can be limited to a single device. Investing in a VPN router solution, such as those provided by FlashRouters, enables the advantages of your VPN across all your devices. 

Establish safeguards for all your connected devices

We live in a world surrounded by smart and connected products accessing the Internet to make our lives more convenient. Unfortunately, the sharing of information between these devices can lead to data theft if your network is not properly secured. 

Your run-of-the-mill router in between your devices and the Internet provides a minimum amount of security. Therefore, you can still be susceptible to cyber-attacks through exploits that router manufacturers may not ever fix. Utilizing a VPN from your router can prevent this type of malicious behavior by hiding the traffic your devices generate.

Next time you think about protecting your home network, think FlashRouters.

Yours from an account sadly holding 0.0000BTC,

Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor.

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