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Senators urge Verily to drop Google connection for COVID-19 tests

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  • Verily’s filtering website requires a Google connection. Legislators ask why.
  • A letter signed by five senators probes Verily on how she will handle sensitive user data, including whether it is HIPAA compliant.
  • The letter is the last in a chain between senators and Google, as Verily expands its testing facilities.
  • Visit the Business Insider home page for more stories.

Five American senators sent a letter to Verily, a company specializing in life sciences, asking how it would protect the user data collected by its COVID-19 filtering website.

As Verily continues to expand its range of testing facilities, concerns are raised about what the company does with user information.

To use Verily’s filtering service, users must either link an existing Google account or create a new one. Senators ask why this is necessary – and are pushing hard to change this rule.

“In the future, will Verily provide another method of authentication for people who do not want or cannot sign up for a Google Account?” request the letter, signed by Democratic Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker from New Jersey, Sherrod Brown from Ohio, Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut and Kamala Harris from California.

Senators are also asking Verily to clarify whether her filtering site complies with the HIPAA privacy rule – a set of standards to protect users’ medical data.

It is in fact the second letter sent by senators for more information. The first was sent on March 18 to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and vice president Mike Pence. He asked if Google had any deals with the Trump administration to launch a screening website and how Google would protect personal health data.

He also made explicit reference to the Nightingale project, Google’s controversial initiative with Ascension that was revealed last year.

Verily replied to this letter, telling senators that she “will delete the information collected through the basic COVID-19 program, unless a person separately authorizes the storage and use of their information”. The company shared this same response with Business Insider at the time. He also told Business Insider that he shared certain user data with third parties such as Salesforce to help his customer service team reach out to individuals.

But that did not provide the answers that lawmakers wanted, and so they deepen it, this time asking questions directly to Verily’s CEO Andrew Conrad.

The final letter asks Verily to explain how individuals will be asked to authorize further use of their information, when Verily plans to give users this option, and how long the data might be kept.

There are also questions about the government agencies that Verily and Google work with, and whether Verily will voluntarily follow the guidelines of the California Consumer Privacy Act if it opens testing facilities in other states with more lenient data laws. .

The letter asks Verily to respond before April 6. A spokesperson for Verily did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

Verily got caught up in a confused story this month when President Donald Trump announced that Google was working on a COVID-19 screening site. This screening site was launched soon after – but by Google’s sister company, Verily, and limited to people in the Bay Area in California.

Google then launched its own COVID-19 website, but the site remains a resource and advice portal for coping with the pandemic, and does not offer projections.

Verily has since expanded its program with an increasing number of driving test facilities and plans to add more. He has also just released guidelines for those looking to create community test sites.

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