Too often the technology industry is guilty of asking forgiveness rather than asking permission when it comes to business practices. Recent news that Alphabet is merging part of its Deep Mind business back into Google is just the latest example of businesses taking actions that seem to conflict with previous statements of intent.  

Broken promises 

The promise in question relates to the taking over of Deep Mind’s health app Streams, used by multiple NHS hospitals, which Deep Mind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman stated in 2016, “that at no stage will patient data ever be linked or associated with Google accounts, products or services.”

The recent news appears to have prompted concerns that Google will now have access to NHS patient records provided when the app was developed, so much so that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is said to be monitoring the situation. This follows the ICO ruling in 2017 that, “the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust failed to comply with the Data Protection Act when it provided patient details to Google DeepMind.”

The people deserve the truth 

Deep Mind has done a good job of reactively responding to the furor, with Deep Mind Health Lead Dominic King taking to Twitter to provide a detailed response to the various concerns being raised by media. However, more could have been done by Deep Mind to proactively address its crisis planning. Providing one sentence in its blog relating to patient data was never going to be enough to satisfy media when data protection and privacy continue to be leading concerns of the public.

The ever increasing impact and importance of technology to society should be treated with the reverence it deserves and any communications coming from technology companies should consider all those with a vested interested in their business. The public and indeed government legislators are paying closer attention than ever and with GDPR legislation now in full effect, future responses to this kind of smoke and mirrors approach to communications may well be more severe than being plopped on the metaphorical naughty step.

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