Offbeat

Legal

Brit law firm files suit against Google and Deepmind over use of hospital patients' data

Royal Free Hospital saga continues as representative action brought


A UK law firm is bringing legal action on behalf of patients it says had their confidential medical records obtained by Google and DeepMind Technologies in breach of data protection laws.

Mishcon de Reya said today it planned a representative action on behalf of Mr Andrew Prismall and the approximately 1.6 million individuals whose data was used as part of a testing programme for medical software developed by the companies.

It told The Register the claim had already been issued in the High Court.

DeepMind, acquired by Google in 2014, worked with the search software giant and Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust under an arrangement formed in 2015.

The law firm said that the tech companies obtained approximately 1.6 million individuals' confidential medical records without their knowledge or consent.

The Register has contacted Google, DeepMind and the Royal Free Hospital for their comments.

"Given the very positive experience of the NHS that I have always had during my various treatments, I was greatly concerned to find that a tech giant had ended up with my confidential medical records," lead claimant Prismall said in a statement.

"As a patient having any sort of medical treatment, the last thing you would expect is your private medical records to be in the hands of one of the world's biggest technology companies.

"I hope that this case will help achieve a fair outcome and closure for all of the patients whose confidential records were obtained in this instance without their knowledge or consent."

The case is being led by Mishcon partner Ben Lasserson, who said: "This important claim should help to answer fundamental questions about the handling of sensitive personal data and special category data.

"It comes at a time of heightened public interest and understandable concern over who has access to people's personal data and medical records and how this access is managed."

The law firm argued that action would be an important step in seeking to address the "very real" public concerns about large-scale access to, and use of, private health data by technology companies. It also raises issues regarding the precise status and responsibility of such technology companies in the data protection context, both in this specific case, and potentially more generally.

In 2017, Google's use of medical records from the hospital's patients to test a software algorithm was deemed legally "inappropriate" by Dame Fiona Caldicott, the then National Data Guardian at the Department of Health.

In April 2016, it was revealed that the web giant had signed a deal with the Royal Free Hospital in London to build an application called Streams, which can analyse patients' details and identify those who have acute kidney damage. The app uses a fixed algorithm, developed with the help of doctors, so not technically AI.

The software – developed by DeepMind, Google's AI subsidiary – was first tested with simulated data. But it was tested again using 1.6 million sets of real NHS medical files provided by the London hospital. However, not every patient was aware that their data was being given to Google to test the Streams software. Streams had been deployed inwards, and thus now handles real people's details, but during development, it also used live medical records as well as simulated inputs.

Dame Caldicott told the hospital's medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, that he overstepped the mark, and that there was no consent given by people to have their information used in this way pre-deployment.

A subsequent Information Commissioner's Office investigation found several shortcomings in how the data was handled, including that patients were not adequately informed that their data would be used as part of the test.

In a data-sharing agreement uncovered by the New Scientist, Google and its DeepMind artificial intelligence wing were granted access to current and historic patient data at three London hospitals run by the Royal Free NHS Trust. ®

Send us news
15 Comments

Meta trains data2vec neural network to understand speech, images, text so it can 'understand the world'

Whatever it takes, Mark

Researchers at Facebook parent's Meta have trained a single AI model capable of processing speech, images, and text in the hope that these so-called multi-modal systems will power the company’s augmented reality and metaverse products.

The model, known as data2vec, can perform different tasks. Given an audio snippet, it can recognize speech. If it’s fed an image, it can classify objects. And when faced with text, it can check the grammar or analyse the writing’s tone and emotions.

AI algorithms are typically trained on one type of data, though data2vec is trained on three different modalities. It still, however, processes each form, whether its speech, images, and text, separately.

Continue reading

Apple preps fix for Safari's web-history-leaking IndexedDB privacy bug

Disclosure of WebKit flaw appears to have prodded iBiz to undertake repairs

Apple is preparing to repair a bug in its WebKit browser engineer that has been leaking data from its Safari 15 browser at least since the problem was reported last November.

Updates made available on Thursday to Apple developers – iOS 15.3 RC and macOS 12.2 RC – reportedly fix the flaw, an improper implementation of IndexedDB API that allows websites to track users and potentially identify them.

The bug affects Apple's Safari 15 browser on macOS, and all browsers on iOS and iPadOS 15 – because Apple requires all browsers on iOS to be based upon its WebKit engine, instead of alternatives like Chromium's Blink or Mozilla's Gecko.

Continue reading

Nvidia pushes crowd-pleasing container support into AI Enterprise suite

As long as you're running on VMware

Nvidia has rolled out the latest version of its AI Enterprise suite for GPU-accelerated workloads, adding integration for VMware's vSphere with Tanzu to enable organisations to run workloads in both containers and inside virtual machines.

Available now, Nvidia AI Enterprise 1.1 is an updated release of the suite that GPUzilla delivered last year in collaboration with VMware. It is essentially a collection of enterprise-grade AI tools and frameworks certified and supported by Nvidia to help organisations develop and operate a range of AI applications.

That's so long as those organisations are running VMware, of course, which a great many enterprises still use in order to manage virtual machines across their environment, but many also do not.

Continue reading

Wolfing down ebooks during lockdown? You might want to check out Calibre, the Swiss Army ebook tool

When audiobooks just take too darn long...

Friday FOSS Fest In this week's edition of our column on free and open-source software, El Reg takes a look at Calibre, which converts almost any file type into almost any other file type, so you can read whatever you want, wherever you want, no matter what format it's in.

It's free and runs on Windows, Linux and Mac.

There's more to ebooks than the Kindle, of course, with devices such as the Kobo, Nook, and Onyx Boox. The author's own Sony Reader still worked fine when I gave it to a friend a year ago.

Continue reading

Dog forgets all about risk of drowning in a marsh as soon as drone dangles a sausage

It's not the wurst idea in the world

Man's best friend, though far from the dumbest animal, isn't that smart either. And if there's one sure-fire way to get a dog moving, it's the promise of a snack.

In another fine example of drones being used as a force for good, this week a dog was rescued from mudflats in Hampshire on the south coast of England because it realised that chasing a sausage dangling from a UAV would be a preferable outcome to drowning as the tide rose.

Or rather the tantalising treat overrode any instinct the pet had to avoid the incoming water.

Continue reading

Almost there: James Webb Space Telescope frees its mirrors and prepares for insertion

Freed of launch restraints, mirror segments can waggle at will

NASA scientists have deployed mirrors on the James Webb Space Telescope ahead of a critical thruster firing on Monday.

With less than 50,000km to go until the spacecraft reaches its L2 orbit, the segments that make up the primary mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are ready for alignment. The team carefully moved all 132 actuators lurking on the back of the primary mirror segments and secondary mirror, driving the former 12.5mm away from the telescope structure.

Continue reading

Arm rages against the insecure chip machine with new Morello architecture

Prototypes now available for testing

Arm has made available for testing prototypes of its Morello architecture, aimed at bringing features into the design of CPUs that provide greater robustness and make them resistant to certain attack vectors. If it performs as expected, it will likely become a fundamental part of future processor designs.

The Morello programme involves Arm collaborating with the University of Cambridge and others in tech to develop a processor architecture that is intended to be fundamentally more secure. Morello prototype boards are now being released for testing by developers and security specialists, based on a prototype system-on-chip (SoC) that Arm has built.

Arm said that the limited-edition evaluation boards are based on the Morello prototype architecture embedded into an Armv8.2-A processor. This is an adaptation of the architecture in the Arm Neoverse N1 design aimed at data centre workloads.

Continue reading

Multi-level marketing corporation that sells weightloss products sues ex-exec over 'fraudulent' Dell deal

Alleges he had an off-the-books agreement with reseller

MLM firm Herbalife, which sells diet-linked products but styles itself as a "nutrition company", has accused one of its former execs of cutting a "fraudulent" $20m deal with a Dell reseller.

Continue reading

'95% original' film star Spitfire could be yours for a mere £4.5m (or 0.05 Pogbas)

Freshly overhauled, several careful owners

Fancy buying an almost-original and flyable Second World War Supermarine Spitfire? If you've got £4.5m gathering dust in the bank, today might be your lucky day.

Spitfire LF Mk.IXB MH415 is up for sale, with various news outlets reporting its sale price as around £4.5m.

Built in 1943, the veteran of two wars and several decades of airshow flying was fully refurbished over the last few years and has just six flying hours on its newly reset clock. Its pristine Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 engine has just 11 hours, meaning the Spitfire can fly for months or years before needing another total overhaul.

Continue reading

You might want to consider the cost of not upgrading legacy tech, UK's Department for Work and Pensions told

Processes relying on 1980s ICL mainframe contributed to £1bn pension black hole

Brit MPs have told the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) it should factor in the cost of not upgrading a 34-year-old legacy system when reviewing tech investments after it contributed to a £1bn pension shortfall.

The department should consider whether there are "cost-effective ways to upgrade its IT systems and enhance its administrative processes to ensure the quality and timeliness of management information and reduce the risk of repeated errors," a report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.

This follows a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) which found that a legacy ICL-era mainframe was one of the causes behind the failure to pay more than £1bn in state pensions.

Continue reading

Joint European Torus celebrates 100,000 pulses: Neither Brexit nor middle age has stopped '80s era experiment

Fusion energy projects nearing 40th anniversary

A milestone was reached this week by the Joint European Torus (JET): the 100,000th pulse of the fusion energy experiment.

JET, which is located at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in the English county of Oxfordshire, has a history going back to 1975. The Culham site was chosen in 1977 and the doughnut-shaped tokamak achieved its first plasma in 1983 (the Queen did the official switching on duties the following year.)

In 1991 JET performed the world's first deuterium-tritium experiment and by 1997 it achieved 22.5 megajoules of fusion energy (and 16 megawatts of fusion power) in a dedicated deuterium-tritium run of experiments. In 2021 it completed a second full-power run using deuterium and tritium.

Continue reading