Amazon, Microsoft, and Palantir will help the UK health service map its coronavirus response, raising privacy worries

NHS nurses

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

NHS nurses wait for the next patient at a drive through Coronavirus testing site in a car park on March 12, 2020 in Wolverhampton, England.

  • Amazon, Microsoft, and Palantir have signed on to help create an interactive coronavirus response dashboard for Britain's National Health Service (NHS).
  • The dashboard will pool data from the NHS and its partners and help healthcare workers make decisions about allocating resources.
  • The deal throws up privacy concerns, as the NHS will be sharing sensitive health data with the companies.
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The digital wing of Britain's National Health Service, NHSX, is teaming up with three US tech companies to help co-ordinate its response to the coronavirus.

UK health secretary Matt Hancock is due to sign a deal with Amazon, Microsoft, and Palantir, as well as London-based firm Faculty AI, the BBC reports.
Business Insider has contacted all four companies and the NHS for comment.

According to the BBC the companies will collaborate to create an interactive digital dashboard which pulls in hoards of data from the NHS and its partners, including:

  • How many ventilators are being used and where.
  • Staff sickness.
  • Number of available and occupied general beds, specialist beds, and critical beds in hospitals.
  • A&E department capacity.
  • How long COVID-19 patients stay in the hospital.
This information could in turn be used to make decisions about resource allocation.

"Every hospital is going to be thinking: Have we got enough ventilators? Well we need to keep ours because who knows what's going to happen - and that might not be the optimal allocation of ventilators," a source at one of the tech companies told the BBC.

The rapidity with which the deal has been struck, and the volume of data that will be shared with the companies gives rise to privacy concerns.Earlier this week a group of technologists published an open letter to NHSX asking it to introduce a robust culture of transparency around its data deals and institute clear rules around patient consent.

They wrote: "The imperative to innovate quickly, and the immense pressure being placed on teams within the NHS and NHSX to deliver at speed must not lead to ethical corners being cut that will undermine trust in the NHS."

They called for transparency from the government and the NHS about the deals they strike and the technology they implement.

There is particular sensitivity about big US tech firms - Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, or Palantir - profiting from access to confidential medical or other data from the NHS, a state-funded institution that is deeply loved by the UK population.

Palantir's involvement, in particular, may cause consternation. The company operates under the radar and has come under fire from immigrant rights groups in the US for its contract with ICE. In late 2019, it took up a military contract with the Pentagon previously abandoned by Google after employees protested it was unethical.

"Palantir have a poor reputation, as engaging in activities which threaten personal privacy and may lead to other human rights abuses," Jim Killock, Executive Director of theUK privacy activist organistion Open Rights Group said in a press statement.

"The NHS therefore needs to be extremely cautious and transparent in its dealings with Palantir. They must explain how people's data may be handled and protected and how they will ensure that Palantir does not acquire or abuse information," he added.
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