medConfidential initial comment on the Google DeepMind Independent Reviewers’ report

UPDATE 2pm: responding to Google’s claims that doctors use secure messaging to send photos, Phil Booth said: “Had Google managed to buy Snapchat, they wouldn’t have said anything about it. The report blames doctors for hygiene, and the hospital for it’s IT systems. Now they’re blaming doctors for their choice of secure messaging apps to care for patients with whom they have a direct care relationship.”

Doctors care for their patients, and it’s up to them which safe and lawful tool to use. The only reason DeepMind care is they have an tool to sell; and they’re still in denial that they way they built it was unlawful.

The report answers none of the obvious questions that a supposedly independent Review of unlawful data copying should have answered.  

The ICO confirmed on Monday that DeepMind Health’s deal with the Royal Free had broken the Data Protection Act in at least 4 ways [1], and they have been given weeks to fix it. There is now a formal undertaking in place for correction of their project’s ongoing breaches of the Data Protection Act [2]. As of this week, DeepMind remains in clear breach of UK privacy laws. (page 7)

The National Data Guardian’s letter, referred to by the Review, shows clearly that DeepMind were aware of the unlawful nature of their processing last December[3] and the Review suggests they chose to do nothing about it.

In addressing “law, regulation and data governance”, the Reviewers say “We believe that there must be a mechanism that allows effective testing without compromising confidential patient information” (page 9, right column). So many people agree that there are already such processes – DeepMind just didn’t use any of them. It is unclear why the “Independent Reviewers” feel this is anyone but Google’s problem. (Here’s the sandbox for Cerner – which the Royal Free uses.)

If, as Prof John Naughton analogises, the Royal Free’s response to the ICO decision was “like a burglar claiming credit for cooperating with the cops and expressing gratitude for their advice on how to break-and-enter legally”, this report is DeepMind saying “It wasn’t me! Ask my mum…” thinking that’s an alibi.

DeepMind accepts no reponsibility [4], and its Reviewers seem happy with that.  Which, given DeepMind’s broad AI ambitions, should frankly be terrifying…

Responding to the Review, medConfidential Coordinator Phil Booth said:

“If Page 7 (right column) is accurate in its description of record handling at the Royal Free, then CQC must conduct an urgent inspection of data hygiene at the hospital; or was this just “independent” hyperbole to make Google look good?”

“The Reviewer’s way to not criticise DeepMind is to avoid looking at all the things where DeepMind did anything wrong. The Reviewers may think “this is fine”, but anyone outside the Google bunker can see that something has gone catastrophically wrong with this project.”

“Google DeepMind continues to receive excessive amounts of data in breach of four principles of the Data Protection Act, and the Independent Reviewers didn’t think this worth a mention. DeepMind did something solely because they thought it might be a good idea, ignorant of the law, and are now incapable of admitting that this project has unresolvable flaws. The ICO has forced both parties to fix them within weeks having ignored them for approaching 2 years.

“DeepMind Health needs real senior management with a experience of caring for patients, i.e. a Regulated Medical Professional, as a Chief Medical Officer. The second paragraph on the inside front cover (which isn’t even a numbered page in the printed document, but page 2 in the PDF) shows how badly they have failed from the start.”

For further information or for immediate or future interview, please contact Phil Booth, coordinator of medConfidential, on 07974 230 839 or


Notes to editors:

  1. Information Commissioner’s Office summary of their finding
  2. The ICO requires that the Royal Free and DeepMind take actions within a month of the undertaking issuance – page 7. of these issues were highlighted to DeepMind by MedConfidential last year, and which they have repeatedly and systemically ignored.
  3. Sky News reported in May that the unlawful nature of the DeepMind data processing was first formally brought to the Royal Free & DeepMind’s attention in December 2016 by the National Data Guardian. Paragraph 4 of the letter from the National Data Guardian to the Hospital clearly shows that they were first formally of their legal failings in December.
  4. Details of medConfidential’s complaint are available here:
  5. This complaint has now been vindicated by the investigation, despite an extremely strong PR response from Google. Contemporary quotes from project advocates, which now ring hollow, include: [all emphasis added]a) Mustafa Suleyman, Co-Founder at DeepMind, has said:

    i) “As Googlers, we have the very best privacy and secure infrastructure for managing the most sensitive data in the world. That’s something we’re able to draw upon as we’re such a core part of Google.” [Guardian, 6/5/16]
    ii) “We have, and will always, hold ourselves to the highest possible standards of patient data protection.” [Daily Mail, 4/5/16]
    iii) How this came about all started with Dr Chris Laing, of the Royal Free Hospital: “We went for coffee and ended up chatting for four hours.” [BBC News Online, 19/7/16]
    iv) More recently, in an interview with Mr Suleyman published on 20/3/17: “When pushed on how the public would be assured that its sensitive data was safe, Suleyman replied, “first there is the law”.” [Digital Health, 20/3/17]

    b) George Freeman MP, at the time a Minister in the Department of Health: “NHS patients need to know their data will be secure and not be sold or used inappropriately, which is why we have introduced tough new measures to ensure patient confidentiality.” [Daily Mail, 4/5/16]

    c) Professor Hugh Montgomery, (consultant for Google’s DeepMind project) said, on Radio 4’s PM programme on 4 May 2016:

    i) “So this is standard business as usual. In this case, it was a standard information data sharing agreement with another supplier, which meets all of those levels of governance. In fact, the agreement there, or the standards of management of those data, meets the very very highest levels. It meets something called HSCIC level 3, which most hospitals trusts don’t even reach.” [Recording of audio available, see link below]
    ii) “So firstly, this isn’t research. Research is governed by an entirely separate process that would require anonymisation of data and all sorts. This is data processing.”
    iii) “It’s fair to say again that not only is this data at the very highest standards, and beats every standard, and more in the United Kingdom. But the data is encrypted end-to-end, and they have to, like everyone else in the health service, stick to the law.”
    iv) Recording of audio available at:

    d) Will Cavendish, now Strategy Lead for DeepMind Applied, formerly Informatics Accountable Officer at the Department of Health, said (when IAO):

    …“The vital importance of trust, security, and cyber security.” … “To be honest, it used to be that not a week goes by, now it’s not a day goes by, without stories of hacking, data leaks, inadvertent data sharing. This absolutely erodes the trust that underpins the work that we do.”

    e) Dr Julian Huppert, Chair and “on behalf of the Panel of Independent Reviewers for Google DeepMind Health” said in an e-mail to medConfidential on 6/7/16:

    i) “one of our roles is to look in detail at how DeepMind Health uses patient data, and to confirm that it complies with the highest ethical and regulatory standards.”
    ii) “We believe from what we have seen so far that DeepMind has a clear commitment to the Caldicott Principles, and that they have to date been honest in their public and private comments. We also believe they are willing to work constructively with regulators, and remain within the law.


  6. DeepMind’s response to the ICO finding has been to blame everyone but themselves. As they begin to regularly refresh part of their Review board, perhaps Shaun Spicer will be available to help.