Senators probe Google coronavirus website over patient privacy concerns

Five Democratic senators are asking Google and Vice President Mike Pence for more information on its recently launched coronavirus website, according to CNBC.

Google’s sister company Verily released the website on March 15 in the San Francisco Bay area. The website, which was highly promoted by President Trump, aims to answer people’s questions about COVID-19 and direct them to the appropriate care.

In the letter, the senators said they “appreciate the Administration’s efforts to utilize Google’s technology to disseminate up-to-date information about COVID-19” but had concerns about the implications of the system, reports CNBC.

To be successful, users have to input a limited amount of information in a questionnaire that helps determine if the person is eligible to receive a COVID-19 test. However, the senators say it’s not clear who will be responsible for the website.

“We have specific concerns in light of [Google’s] Project Nightingale initiative with Ascension Health which grants it access to millions of [Americans’] personal health data,” the letter states, according to CNBC.

“There are numerous privacy concerns about such an endeavor, including: whether people will be required to sign waivers forfeiting their privacy and personal data in order to access the questionnaire; whether Google or any of its subsidiaries will be prohibited from using data received through the website for commercial purposes; and whether Google and any of its subsidiaries will be prohibited from selling any data collected through the website to a third-party,” the letter continues.

“If Google and its subsidiaries fail to establish sufficient privacy safeguards, Americans who use the site will be more susceptible to identity theft, negative credit decisions and employment discrimination.”

The senators have requested Google and Mr. Pence respond by March 30.

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