Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Technology giant Google said it's been collecting the personal health information of millions of Americans nationwide, through a partnership with a U.S. healthcare provider, as a project to improve the quality of medical care.
As part of its "Project Nightingale," Google gathered patients' lab results, diagnoses and other medical records, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported. The records collected by Google related to Americans in 21 states, the reports said.
The gathered records include complete health histories, patient names and dates of birth, the reports said, and as many as 150 Google employees had access to the data. The information was obtained through Google's partnership with St. Louis-based health provider Ascension, and has drawn significant criticism.
Google responded to the criticism by defending its actions -- saying the collecting of records is a standard industry practice when tech companies work with a health provider. It said sought the records to design software to tailor patient care with "advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning."
Google said it's "helping healthcare organizations like Ascension improve the healthcare experience and outcomes" and described the partnership as a "business arrangement."
"These organizations, like Ascension, use Google to securely manage their patient data, under strict privacy and security standards," the company said in a statement Monday. "They are the stewards of the data, and we provide services on their behalf."
Google emphasized that its work with Ascension has adhered to privacy laws.
"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," the company said.
"There's been a good deal of speculation on this partnership, so we want to make sure everyone has the facts."Ascension said it's working with Google to "deliver a comprehensive portfolio of digital capabilities that enhance the experience of Ascension consumers, patients and clinical providers."
Ascension strategy executive Eduardo Conrado said the health company needed to evolve to better meet needs and expectations of customers.
"Doing that will require the programmatic integration of new care models delivered through the digital platforms, applications and services that are part of the everyday experience of those we serve," he said in a statement.