back to article UK govt publishes contracts granting Amazon, Microsoft, Google and AI firms access to COVID-19 health data

UK government has published the contracts it holds with private tech firms and the NHS for the creation of a COVID-19 data store, just days after campaigners fired legal shots over a lack of transparency. Available on the openDemocracy website, the contracts describe how the arrangements between the NHS and Amazon, Microsoft, …

  1. Anonymous Coward

    the London AI company Faculty, which worked on the Vote Leave Brexit referendum campaign.

    Ergo they can do no wrong, so nothing to see here. It is just remoaner sour grapes and anti-British socialists mounting a witchhunt against our world class British tech companies.

    1. Glen 1 Silver badge

      Re: the London AI company Faculty, which worked on the Vote Leave Brexit referendum campaign.

      Good troll, nearly got me.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: the London AI company Faculty, which worked on the Vote Leave Brexit referendum campaign.

      Don't be sarcastic, if there was anything suspicious about them the parliamentary enquiry would have discovered and documented it.

  2. Mike Shepherd

    Amazon, Microsoft, Google...

    These foreign companies are slavering at the thought of getting their hands on NHS data and wheedling their way into NHS contracts. Patients will just be the livestock that came with the farm.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Amazon, Microsoft, Google...

      Particularly interesting is the potential IP issues.

      "I'd like to see my health records."

      "Certainly sir, that will cost $50…"

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

        Re: Amazon, Microsoft, Google...

        Maybe we can get some targeted ads for disposable diapers and new cribs inserted into your unborn child's ultrasound video. Hey, we owe it to the economy to maximize the usage of that previously undeveloped promotional space!!

        1. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge

          Re: Amazon, Microsoft, Google...

          Since Google is involved, videos will be available through YouTube, in a dedicated channel (Baby Ultrasound Videos), with ads before and after (and overlays also)...

  3. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    Oh, FFS!!

    "Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and AI firms Faculty and Palantir"--and I guess that negotiations with Facebook are ongoing. Seriously, is there anyone on the "agents of future dystopian AI surveillance society" list that didn't get snout-space at this NHS data trough?? Is the NHS so hard up for cash that they have to become the be-yotch of every Big Data company out there? I would hope that this drives a final stake into the heart of the government's "track-and-trace" ("Forever, and ever, and ever", apparently.) program

    I suppose Brits should be glad that the NHS has (not yet) stumbled on the potential revenue stream that could be realized by selling the organs of NHS patients when they come in for routine procedures. It would kind of suck if you went in for a hernia operation, and the last thing you heard before the anesthesia kicked in was "Why, this citizen has TWO healthy kidneys! Call Hong Kong!!"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh, FFS!!

      it will be rather "Why, this citizen has TWO healthy kidneys! Call Hong Kong and Sotchi!!"

  4. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Not a Good Look when It Stinks to High Heaven*

    So, ... the Conservative Party selling off the family silver to pay for some lavish planned early retirements ..... springs agilely to mind.

    * Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road

  5. Long John Silver

    Truly appalling

    Routinely collected NHS patient data are a great resource for use as starting point for enquiries into factors pertaining to health and into how patients interact with services. For ordinary purposes fully anonymous data suffice; there being no reason why most such ought not be freely (or at transfer cost) available to any individual or group seeking access. Rendering data anonymous is by degree rather than absolute. For instance the ONS produces small area statistics at the finest level after having noise added to the numbers to make it impossible to identify an individual or household with confidence; yet it remaining clear that these data do pertain to a clearly delineated set of individuals.

    Data not rendered securely anonymous ought be available for use only in the following circumstances.

    (1) By clinicians exploring data sets they compiled for professional purposes (patient records) in order to produce descriptive statistics about their patient population and perhaps identify subgroups to target specific services (e.g. screening).

    (2) Bona fide administrators of health service provision but these furnished with only such detail about individual patients/clients as necessary for administrative functions at their level in the organisation.

    (3) Research - this within a spectrum encompassing clinical (e.g. specific studies into aetiology) and service management interests (e.g. seeking to understand reasons for 'non-compliance' with requests to accept an invitation to aortic aneurysm screening).

    The third category merits considerable attention to confidentiality. Any use, not designated as routine or harmless, of data with identifiable characteristics ought go through independent scrutiny by trustworthy (to health professionals and to the general population) individuals. With respect to clinical research involving making contact with patients (e.g. via questionnaire), and perhaps making demands upon them (e.g. participation in a clinical trial), there is a well established set of geographically local and of nationally based committees charged with scrutinising adherence to ethical and legal principles.

    It is inconceivable that under the present regimen of confidentiality and ethics any commercial entity would be permitted directly to approach patients (for legitimate research) or to market products to patients by any means.

    In light of the above we need to know in detail answers to the following questions.

    (1) Precisely what data are to be sold to commercial entities? Why should not these data be freely available (at distribution cost) to all legitimate research groups and scholars?

    (2) How does the government justify extending the shaky notion of 'intellectual property' to communal data?

    (3) Shall people in contact with the NHS be granted absolute right permanently to opt out from transfer of information about them beyond the confines of the NHS?

    There is so much more that could be said about this dodgy exercise but, suffice to say, it is a natural consequence of entrenched neo-liberal pseudo-intellectual economic doctrine (Hayek was a third rate thinker even within context of the 'dismal science' of economics): everything can be assigned a monetary value and that which seemingly cannot is of no worth.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Data not rendered securely anonymous

      ought not to be available under any circumstances.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Data not rendered securely anonymous

        Don't be silly. That's the sort of absolute statement being used by the "other side" claiming "anonymous usage only". Using your statement, that would mean your own GP couldn't access you medical records, let alone hospital staff or clinicians.

        1. Gonzo wizard Bronze badge

          Re: Data not rendered securely anonymous

          In my opinion the AC meant his comment within the scope of the overall discussion: large-scale movement of information to organisations outside the NHS that have nothing to do with providing the service for which we provide that information. Seems a perfectly reasonable position to me.

  6. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    See Icon

    The only answer to this cesspit of corruption.

  7. Barrie Shepherd

    Lost it's purpose - no longer Public Health more a profit scheme

    I really don't get it.

    To be effective the Gov. need as many of us as possible to use the APP and submit to the Track and Trace activity.

    So why make the whole thing an effective commercial activity guaranteed to put a lot of people off installing the APP, and engaging with the system, given that every Tom, Dick and Harry will potentially have access to what may be sensitive personal data - even if claimed to be 'anonymised'

    How much more support would there be for the simpler, non centralised APP, and Track and Trace activity only accessible to Health Professionals, and the data protected by Law from snooping (read RIPA) and use for ANY other purpose.

    I guess the answer is the COVID virus has already taught the government that they have a compliant population, that accepts draconian restriction to their lives, so why not collect a load of data which we can sell off to commercial operations and provide material for endless PhD Thesis's.

    It's not that we can legally get on a train and head to London to protest about the whole sorry mess - as we are under effective house arrest.

    (Now waiting for the 'If you have nothing to hide.....' response from No 10.)

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Lost it's purpose - no longer Public Health more a profit scheme

      I guess the answer is the COVID virus has already taught the government that they have a compliant population, that accepts draconian restriction to their lives...

      The government may believe that but please don't mistake people taking entirely sensible precautions to protect themselves, their families and loved ones, from a very nasty contagion as being gullible and compliant sheeple.

      I would rather say it will be those being coerced out of lockdown prematurely, with only the magical protection of a home-made face covering, who will find themselves to have been the most gullible and compliant.

      I'm staying in my cave until I consider it safe to come out and fuck whatever the government says.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Lost it's purpose - no longer Public Health more a profit scheme

        Sadly, most people cannot afford to stay safe.

        If your job can't be done from home, then by end of June Rishi Sunak is forcing you to go back to the grindstone, regardless of whether it's safe.

        While in theory your local council could prosecute unsafe employers (the HSE only handle specific industries directly), in practice they are so underfunded that the majority of breaches aren't investigated at all. Even after a reportable incident has occurred.

        Get back to work, peons. Your Lord and Master Cummings-Johnson decrees you expendable.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lost it's purpose - no longer Public Health more a profit scheme

        "the magical protection of a home-made face covering"

        They're not to protect you (ignoring filtration effectiveness, they don't cover the eyes [which is an entry point], for starters), they're to protect everyone else from you if you're infected (and in that use case, they do actually work).

        But otherwise, yes.

    2. Something something

      Re: Lost it's purpose - no longer Public Health more a profit scheme

      For, "given that every Tom, Dick and Harry will potentially have access to what may be sensitive personal data - even if claimed to be 'anonymised'"


      given that any company, requiring exceptionally well paid political consultancy at a suitably corruption obfuscating time period in the future, will potentially have access....

  8. pintofbitter

    They just couldn't stop themselves could they,,,

  9. Donchik
    Big Brother

    Over my Dead Body

    As someone in more than one high risk category I will be isolating regardless of the Propaganda being pushed by our imperious leaders.

    I know I'll catch it eventually and my best hope to avoid a terminal event is to delay that occurrence until, hopefully, better mitigations exist so that my chances of surviving improve.

    A vaccine is by no means a done deal, and as flu shows not always 100% effective.

    Forget herd immunity, it does not work with flu or SARS or Ebola etc, why should it work with Coronavirus?

    As for the harvesting of our personal data to enrich Dom and his mates I will not be installing any App pushed by these fools. The worst nightmare possible might be that we actually survive Coronavirus only to come out on the other side into a permanent state controlled surveillance world. i.e. V for Vendetta style.

    "Vi veri universum vivus vici"

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re the almighty problem when half truths don't add up

      Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson, who be just as a brace in a whole host of other similar noisy vessels/vassals in operations worldwide, are both finding there are irregular and unconventional and unintended consequences whenever both exercising and/or not exercising in government office the mode/meme ..... "By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe" ...... for words create, command and control and destroy worlds and they do not have exclusive executive use of any of those ...... and any which they would propose and prefer to be ineffectively rendered extraordinarily unseen, surely an accurate enough sign of that which they fear to be made more generally known.

      Are they not told or do they not believe that the honest truth is unbeatable and eventually inevitably always brutal to that and those treating it as an enemy to be vanquished?

  10. Canna

    After reading this article and the supplied links this just prompts me further to NOT TO INSTALL the Test, Track and Trace app when it eventually appears. To many third party private companies are getting access to our data to use for money making activities and most of them are suspect data security losers. Even "Lady Dido Harding" who is in charge of Track and Trace was the CEO of TalkTalk when it was hit by a cyber-attack affecting tens of thousands of customers financial data etc.. The ICO fined them £400,000:00 for this hack.

  11. Robert D Bank

    No choice?

    It seems implied to me that these crooks (and GCHQ) will be granted access to NHS records regardless of whether you have installed the NHS App or not, or am I missing something?

    The arseholes really are a piece of work aren't they. This whole App seems to have been conceived as a commercial opportunity first, with a possible side benefit to public health. They were so hungry to commercialise it that they forgot about the small issues of GDPR, security and that many people distrust them and keep an eye out for their tricks.

    Expect a continuous stream of this sort of nonsense as trade agreements are being drawn up with the US and others.

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