Insights & Analyses

Google’s DeepMind plots healthcare data auditing system secured by blockchain

March 13, 2017

As Google’s efforts to enter into the healthcare space meet criticism from data privacy advocates, the search giant’s DeepMind company has detailed how it plans to leverage blockchain to audit and verify data while maintaining patient privacy.

In a post detailing some of the challenges in the road ahead, DeepMind explained that its forthcoming Verifiable Data Audit system will include a special digital ledger that will keep record of every time a piece of data has been used. Using “some of the properties of blockchain,” the ledger will be append-only, ensuring that records of data use cannot be erased.

In addition, the ledger will make it possible for third parties to verify that the data entries have not been tampered with, a crucial element as DeepMind hopes to ease concerns about privacy.

DeepMind, an artificial intelligence company, is building an access infrastructure for National Health Service patient medical records in the U.K. The agreement with the NHS Royal Free Hospital Trust in London is actually the second contract signed — a first attempt to forge a data sharing agreement was met with criticism and failed to comply with certain government regulations.

The end goal of the collaboration is a way for hospitals to securely share medical data digitally, while ensuring patient privacy and the authenticity of data.

“Imagine a service that could give mathematical assurance about what is happening with each individual piece of personal data, without possibility of falsification or omission,” DeepMind explained in its blog post, authored by cofounder Mustafa Suleyman and head of security and transparency Ben Laurie. “Imagine the ability for the inner workings of that system to be checked in real-time, to ensure that data is only being used as it should be. Imagine that the infrastructure powering this was freely available as open source, so any organization in the world could implement their own version if they wanted to.”

DeepMind plans to build its system “in the open,” and claims it will be candid with the public about any “pitfalls” it encounters as it works to launch components later this year.

“We recognize this is really hard,” they said, “and the toughest challenges are by no means the technical ones.”