Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller was a breath of fresh air in a gaming world that has largely failed to consider the needs of people with disabilities. Now Logitech has joined the effort to empower this diverse population with an expanded set of XAC-compatible buttons and triggers.
Logitech’s $100 Adaptive Gaming Kit comes with a dozen buttons in a variety of sizes, two large analog levers to control the triggers, and a Velcro-style pad to which they can all be securely attached. It’s hopefully the start of a hardware ecosystem that will be at least a significant fraction of the diversity available to the able population.
The visibility of gamers with disabilities has grown both as the communities have organized and communicated their needs, and as gaming itself has moved towards the mainstream. Turns out there are millions of people who, for one reason or another, can’t use a controller or mouse and keyboard the way others can — and they want to play games too.
Always one of the more reliably considerate companies when it comes to accessibility issues, Microsoft began developing the XAC a couple years back — though admittedly after years of, like the rest of the gaming hardware community, failing to accommodate disabled gamers.
Logitech was an unwitting partner, having provided joysticks for the project without being told what they were for. But when the XAC was unveiled, Logitech was stunned and chagrined.
“This is something that, shame on us, we didn’t think about,” said Mark Starrett, Logitech G’s senior global product manager. “We’ve been trying to diversify gaming, like getting more girls to play, but we totally did not think about this. But you see the videos Microsoft put out, how excited the kids are — it’s so motivating to see that, it makes you want to continue that work.”
And to their credit, the team got in contact with Microsoft soon after and said they’d like to collaborate on some accessories for the system.
In some ways this wouldn’t be particularly difficult: The XAC uses 3.5mm headphone jacks as its main input, so it can accept signals from a wide range of devices, from its own buttons and sticks to things like blow tubes, so there’s no worries about proprietary connections, for instance. But when it comes to accessible devices and systems like this, there are often other rigorous standards in place that need to be upheld throughout, so it’s necessary to work closely with both the platform provider (Microsoft) and, naturally, the people who will actually be using them.
“This community, you can’t make anything for them without doing it with them,” said Starrett. “When we design a gaming keyboard or mouse, we engage pros, players, all that stuff, right? So with this, it’s absolutely critical to watch them with every piece.”
“The biggest takeaway is that everybody is so different: every challenge, every setup, everyone we talked to,” he continued. “We had a 70, 80 year old guy who plays Destiny and has arthritis — all we really needed to do was put a block on the back of his controller, because he couldn’t pull the trigger. Then we worked with a girl who has a quadstick, she was playing Madden like a pro with something you just puff and blow on. Another guy played everything with his feet. So we spent a lot of time on the site just watching.”
The final set of buttons they arrived at includes three very large ones, four smaller ones (though still big compared with ordinary controller buttons), four “light touch” buttons that can be easily activated by any contact, and two big triggers. Because they knew different gamers would use the sets differently, there’s a set of labels in the box that can be applied however they like.
Then there are two hook and loop (i.e. Velcro) mats to which the buttons can be attached, one rigid and the other flexible, so it can be draped over a leg, the arm of a couch, etc.
Even the packaging the buttons come in is accessible: A single strip of tape pulls out and causes the whole box to unfold, and then everything is in non-sealed reusable bags. The guide is wordless so it can be used in any country, by any player.
It’s nice to see such consideration at work, and no doubt the players who will benefit from these products will be happy to have a variety of options to choose from. I was starting to think I could use a couple of these buttons myself.
Starrett seemed very happy with the results, and also proud that the work had started something new at Logitech.
“The groups we talked to brought a lot of different things to mind for us,” he said. “We’re always updating things, but now we’re updating everything with an eye to accessibility. It’s helped Logitech as a company to learn about this stuff.”
The changes to contactual terms will apply globally and to all its commercial customers — whether public or private sector entity, or large or small business, it said today.
The new contractual provisions will be offered to all public sector and enterprise customers at the beginning of 2020, it adds.
In October Europe’s data protection supervisor warned that preliminary results of an investigation into contractual terms for Microsoft’s cloud services had raised serious concerns about compliance with EU data protection rules and the role of the tech giant as a data processor for EU institutions.
Writing on its EU Policy blog, Julie Brill, Microsoft’s corporate VP for global privacy and regulatory affairs and chief privacy officer, announces the update to privacy provisions in the Online Services Terms (OST) of its commercial cloud contracts — saying it’s making the changes as a result of “feedback we’ve heard from our customers”.
“The changes we are making will provide more transparency for our customers over data processing in the Microsoft cloud,” she writes.
She also says the changes reflect those Microsoft developed in consultation with the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security — which comprised both amended contractual terms and technical safeguards and settings — after the latter carried out risk assessments of Microsoft’s OST earlier this year and also raised concerns.
Specifically, Microsoft is accepting greater data protection responsibilities for additional processing involved in providing enterprise services, such as account management and financial reporting, per Brill:
Through the OST update we are announcing today we will increase our data protection responsibilities for a subset of processing that Microsoft engages in when we provide enterprise services. In the OST update, we will clarify that Microsoft assumes the role of data controller when we process data for specified administrative and operational purposes incident to providing the cloud services covered by this contractual framework, such as Azure, Office 365, Dynamics and Intune. This subset of data processing serves administrative or operational purposes such as account management; financial reporting; combatting cyberattacks on any Microsoft product or service; and complying with our legal obligations.
Microsoft currently designates itself as a data processor, rather than data controller for these administrative and operations functions that can be linked to provision of commercial cloud services, such as its Azure platform.
But under Europe’s General Data Protection framework a data controller has the widest obligations around handling personal data — with responsibility under Article 5 of the GDPR for the lawfulness, fairness and security of the data being processed — and therefore also greater legal risk should it fail to meet the standard.
So, from a regulatory point of view, Microsoft’s current commercial contract structure poses a risk for EU institutions of user data ending up being processed under a lower standard of legal protection than is merited.
The announced switch from data processor to controller should raise the bar around associated purposes that Microsoft may also provide to commercial customers of its cloud services.
For the latter purpose itself, Microsoft says it will remain the data processor, as well as for improving and addressing bugs or other issues related to the service, ensuring security of the services, and keeping the services up to date.
In August a conference organized jointly by the EU’s data protection supervisor and and the Dutch Ministry brought together EU customers of cloud giants to work on a joint response to regulatory risks related to cloud software provision.
Earlier this year the Dutch Ministry obtained contractual changes and technical safeguards and settings in the amended contracts it agreed with Microsoft.
“The only substantive differences in the updated terms [that will roll out globally for all commercial cloud customers] relate to customer-specific changes requested by the Dutch MOJ, which had to be adapted for the broader global customer base,” Brill writes now.
Microsoft’s blog post also points to other global privacy-related changes it says were made following feedback from the Dutch MOJ and others — including a roll out of new privacy tools across major services; specific changes to Office 365 ProPlus; and increased transparency regarding use of diagnostic data.
Microsoft’s original Xbox Elite controller was a major step up for gamers, with customizable buttons, changeable physical controls and adjustable sensitivity for serious personalization. The new Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 has just landed, and it offers similar features, but with new and improved features that add even more customization options, along with key hardware improvements that take what was one of the best gaming controllers available and make it that much better.
This might seem like a weird place to start, but the fact that the new Xbox Elite 2 comes with USB-C for charging and wired connections is actually a big deal, especially given that just about every other gadget in our lives has moved on to adapting this standard. Micro USB is looking decidedly long in the tooth, and if you’re like me, one of the only reasons you still have those cables around at all is to charge your game controllers.
In the box, you get a braided USB-A to USB-C charging cable, which at nine feet is plenty long enough to reach from your console to your couch. Of course, you also can use your phone, tablet, MacBook or any other USB-C charger and cable combo to power up the Elite 2, which is why it’s such a nice upgrade.
This is big for one other key reason: Apple recently added Xbox controller compatibility to its iPad lineup, which also charges via USB-C. That’s what makes this the perfect controller for anyone looking to turn their tablets into a portable gaming powerhouse, as it reduces the amount of kit you need to pack when you want to grab the controller and have a good option for digging into some iPad gaming.
Probably the main reason to own the Elite 2 is that it offers amazing customization options. New to this generation, you can even adjust the resistance of the thumbsticks, which is immensely useful if you’re a frequent player of first-person shooter (FPS) games, for instance. This lets you tune the sensitivity of the sticks to help ensure you’re able to find the right balance of sensitivity versus resistance for accurate aiming, and it should help pros and enthusiasts make the most of their own individual play style.
The shoulder triggers also now have even shorter hair-trigger locks, which means you can fire quicker with shorter squeezes in-game. And in the case, you’ll find other thumbsticks that you can swap out for the ones that are pre-installed, as well as a D-pad you can use to replace the multi-directional pad.
On top of the hardware customization, you also can tweak everything about the controller in software on Windows 10 and Xbox One, using Microsoft’s Accessories app. You can even assign a button to act as a “Shift” key to provide even more custom options, so that you can set up key combos to run even more inputs. Once you find a configuration you like, you can save it as a profile to the controller and switch quickly between them using a physical button on the controller’s front face.
Even if you’re not a hardcore multiplayer competitive gamer, these customization options can come in handy. I often use profiles that assign thumbstick clicks to the rear paddle buttons, for instance, which makes playing a lot of single-player games much more comfortable, especially during long sessions.
The Xbox Elite 2 includes a travel case, just like the first generation, but this iteration is improved, too. It has a removable charging dock, which is a quality accessory in its own right. The dock offers pass-through charging even while the controller is inside the case, too, thanks to a USB-C cut-through that you can seal with a rubberized flap when it’s not in use.
In addition to housing the charger and controller, the case can hold the additional sticks and D-pad, as well as the paddles when those aren’t in use. It’s got a mesh pocket for holding charging cables and other small accessories, and the exterior is a molded hard plastic wrapped in fabric that feels super durable, and yet doesn’t take up much more room than the controller itself when packed in a bag.
The case is actually a huge help in justifying that $179.99 price tag, as all of this would be a significant premium as an after-market add-on accessory for a standard controller.
Microsoft took its time with a successor to the original Xbox Elite Wireless Controller, and while at first glance you might think that not much has changed, there are actually a lot of significant improvements here. The controller’s look and feel also feel better, with more satisfying button, pad and the stick response, and a better grip thanks to the new semi-textured finish on the front of the controller.
USB-C and more customization options might be good enough reason even for existing Elite Controller owners to upgrade, but anyone on the fence about getting an Elite to begin with should definitely find this a very worthwhile upgrade over a standard Xbox One controller.
The $399 Mavic Mini lives in a sweet spot of core features and a low price. It packs everything critical to be a quality drone. It has a good camera, good range, and a good controller. It holds up well in the wind and is quick enough to be fun. And it’s so small that you’re more likely to throw it in your bag and take it on Instagram adventures.
The small size is the Mavic Mini’s main selling point. It weighs 249 grams, and that odd number isn’t an accident. Drones that weight 250 grams and above have to be registered to fly. And yet, even though the Mavic Mini is lightweight and foldable, it’s packed with core features: 30 minute flight time, 4 km HD video transmission, 3-axis gimbal holding a 2.7K camera, and a physical controller that works with Android and iOS devices. At $399, it’s a lot of drone for the money even though it’s missing features found in DJI’s other drones.
There are more expensive drones packed with a lot of features. I own most of those drones. They’re fun, but several years ago, feature creep started sneaking into DJI’s products. Now, with a convoluted product line, a spreadsheet is needed to deceiver DJI’s drones. Most come loaded with countless features owners will likely never use. The Mavic Mini is something different. It’s basic, and I dig it.
Here’s what’s missing: collision detection, ultra-long-range connection, 4k camera, gesture control, and advanced camera features like trackable follow, panoramic, timelapse, and optical zoom.
The Mavic Mini is quick enough to be fun, but it won’t win any races. It’s responsive and fast enough. Light and easy. Compared to a Mavic 2, it feels smaller and less powerful — because it is — and yet it never feels too small or underpowered. The Mavic Mini is well balanced, and owners should find it enjoyable to fly.
Despite its tiny size, the Mavic Mini holds up well in high wind. I took it up to 200m on a windy fall day in the Midwest. The wind was clearing leaves off the trees, and I was bundled up in hat and gloves. It was gusty. The Mavic Mini didn’t care. It took off like a drone much larger and stood tall against the wind. What’s more, the video didn’t suffer. The gimbal held the camera steady as it recorded the autumn landscape.
The drone uses DJI’s new app, and I’m using a beta version to test the drone. Called DJI Fly, it’s a streamlined version of DJI Go and packs several enhancements. Safe fly zones are better integrated into the app and have an additional level of detail over the older app. DJI also better built-in support for its social community app, SkyPixel. However, as this version is streamlined, it lacks a lot of information standard on the Go version, most notable, a mini-map in the bottom corner of the screen. I’m hoping DJI adds more features to this app after it launches.
The camera is good for the price. The pictures here were taken from the drone and not altered or adjusted. They were taken on cloudy and sunny days. The range is surprisingly good as the drone can capture blue skies and dark highlights. Occasionally in direct sunlight, the camera colors become washed out.
They say the best camera is the one you have with you. That’s where the Mavic Mini comes in. The best drone is the one you have with you. For years, I lugged around a massive Pelican case containing Phantom 2 and later a Phantom 3. I thought I was the coolest. At a moment’s notice, I could go to my car’s trunk and retrieve a suitcase containing a flying camera. A few minutes later, after my phone synced to the drone, and the controller joined the drone’s network, I had 15 minutes of flight time. Then came the foldable Mavic, which fit alongside my camera gear like a large telephoto lens. Other drones came and went. I liked the GoPro Karma for a time.
The tiny Mavic Mini is a game-changer. It’s small enough that I’ll bring it everywhere. It’s small and light enough that it feels like a large point and shoot in my computer bag.
Want more features and a better camera but keep the portable size? Earlier this year DJI announced the $919 foldable Mavic Air that has a 4k camera and 5 mile video transmission.
The Mavic Mini gets everything right. It’s small, comes with a lovely case, and in a $499 bundle, two extra batteries with a clever charging pack. The camera is surprisingly good though admittedly less powerful than DJI’s more expensive drones. The Mavic Mini is the perfect drone for a first-timer or experienced drone enthusiast. DJI stuff enough features into the 249 gram body to make this a fantastic drone for anyone.
Space is becoming a major area of startup and commercial investment, so I’ve decided to start providing a weekly round-up of the biggest news in aerospace, space science and space-related technologies. Let me know if you appreciate this or have suggestions, and I’ll make sure it evolves as needed to be a useful resource.
This week, there was an abundance of spacesuit news, and signs from multiple operators that there’s going to be an orbital traffic boom in the immediate future. Also, we’re heading into the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) this coming week, so expect a lot more news starting tomorrow.
NASA showed off a brand new generation of spacesuit, including the one that the first American woman and next American man to set foot on the Moon will don for that historic moment. The new Artemis suits are designed to scale from essentially the smallest to the largest possible adult human frame, which NASA touts as a way to make the astronaut program more accessible to a wider range of Americans. The agency should be going out of its way to fix that, because of what happened that led to item No. 2 this week.
For the first time, NASA is looking to outsource the full production of these Artemis-generation spacesuits (including the Orion survival suit, which was also revealed today and will be worn only during flight aboard the Orion capsule). To that end, it has put out a request for input about their design and development ahead of setting up a proper RFP.
As I alluded above, there was a very good reason NASA really emphasized how inclusive its Artemis suit designs are: The agency had to cancel a first all-woman spacewalk earlier this year because it didn’t have the right amount of properly sized spacesuits on board the International Space Station. It sent one up in June, however, and that historic moment happened this past week, with Koch and Meir performing a roughly seven-hour spacewalk to repair a power controller.
That’s on top of the 12,000 it has already had cleared, which makes for a total potential constellation size of 42,000. That’s about 8x the number of satellites currently in orbit, across all orbital zones. It’s a move that is definitely raising the ire of both industry and space researchers, because it’ll make it a lot more complicated to ensure orbital spacecraft avoid collisions, and it could potentially obscure the view of the stars from Earth. SpaceX says it has taken steps to ensure it can avoid both problems, but not everyone is convinced.
Meanwhile, startup Swarm has been granted FCC approval to deploy its own, much-smaller constellation of 150 satellites. Swarm isn’t competing directly with SpaceX’s Starlink – it wants to provide low-bandwidth IoT connectivity. And while it isn’t looking to put up a huge volume of spacecraft, there was some concern that its toaster-sized satellites might be too small to track and present a risk that way.
New Zealand-born and lately U.S.-headquartered Rocket Lab was successful in launching its fifth Electron rocket this year. The startup’s success was more a proof point for its business model than its technology, however, as the payload that flew aboard this mission was actually one that wasn’t slated to go up until much later in the queue. Rocket Lab’s original client for this one had to drop out due to unfortunate circumstances, and Rocket Lab was able to get client Astro Digital an earlier ride. This kind of late-stage payload swap has not typically been a strength of the established commercial space launch industry.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will begin ferrying wealthy paying tourists to the very edge of space next year, if all goes to plan, and now we know what they’ll be wearing when they do: Under Armour. The sportswear company and Branson’s space enterprise unveiled the new suits at a flashy special event featuring the first tourists who have reserved $250,000 tickets aboard Virgin Galactic’s atmosphere-skimming spacecraft.
Lockheed Martin has been in the commercial space business since there has been a commercial space business to be in, and around a decade ago it established a corporate venture fund to make strategic bets on startups. I sat down with the fund’s GM and Executive Director J. Christopher Moran to talk about what the fund looks for in startups — and the industry giant is a lot more interested in early-stage companies than you might have thought. (Extra Crunch subscription required.)
Logitech recently introduced a new mouse and keyboard, the MX Master 3 ($99.99) and MX Keys ($99.99) respectively. Both devices borrow a lot from other, older hardware in Logitech’s lineup — but they build on what the company has gotten really right with input devices, and add some great new features to make these easily the best option out there when it comes to this category of peripherals.
This new keyboard from Logitech inherits a lot from the company’s previous top-of-the-line keyboard aimed at creatives, the Logitech Craft keyboard. It looks and feels a lot like the premium Craft — minus the dial that Logitech placed at the top of that keyboard, which worked with companion software to offer a variety of different controls for a number of different applications.
The Craft’s dial was always a bit of a curiosity, and while probably extremely useful for certain creative workflows, where having a tactile dial control makes a lot of sense (for scrubbing a video timeline during editing, for instance), in general the average user probably isn’t going to need or use it much.
The MX Keys doesn’t have the Craft’s dial, and it takes up less space on your desk as a result. It also costs $70 less than the Craft, which is probably something most people would rather have than the unique controller. The MX Keys still have excellent key travel and typing feel, like its bigger sibling, and it also has smart backlighting that turns on automatically when your hand approaches the keys — and which you can adjust or turn off to suit your preference (and extend battery life).
MX Keys has a built-in battery that charges via USB-C, and provides up to 10 days of use on a full charge when using the backlight, or up to five months if you disable the backlight entirely. For connectivity, you get both Bluetooth and Logitech’s USB receiver, which also can connect to other Logitech devices like the MX Master series of mice.
The keyboard can connect to up to three devices at once, with dedicated buttons to switch between them. It supports Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS out of the box, and has multi-marked keys to make it easier to transition between operating systems. Plus, when you’re using the MX Keys in tandem with the MX Master 3 or other Logitech mice that support its Flow software, you can transition seamlessly between computers and even operating systems, for doing things like copying and pasting files.
AT $99.99, the MX Keys feels like an incredible value, as it offers very premium-feeling hardware in an attractive package, with a suite of features that’s hard to match in a keyboard from anyone else — including first-party peripherals from Microsoft and Apple .
When it comes to mice, there are few companies that can match Logitech’s reputation or record. The MX Master series in particular has won plenty of fans — and for good reason.
The MX Master 3 doesn’t re-invent the wheel — except that it literally does, in the case of the scroll wheel. Logitech has introduced a new-school wheel with “MagSpeed” technology that switches automatically between fluid scrolling and more fine-grained, pixel-precise control. The company claims the new design is 90% faster and 87% more precise than its previous scroll wheel, which is pretty much an impossible claim to verify through standard use. That said, it does feel like a better overall scrolling experience, and the claim that it’s now “ultra quiet” is easy to confirm.
Logitech has also tweaked the shape of the mouse, with a new silhouette it says is better suited to matching the shape of your palm. That new shape is complimented with a new thumb scroll wheel, which has always been a stellar feature of the Master series and which, again, does feel better in actual use, though it’s difficult to put your finger on exactly why. Regardless, it feels better than the Master 2S, and that’s all that really matters.
In terms of tracking, Logitech’s Darkfield technology is here to provide effective tracking on virtually all surfaces. It tracks at 4,000 DPI, which is industry-leading for accuracy, and you can adjust sensitivity, scroll direction and other features in Logitech’s desktop software. The MX Master 3 also supports up to three devices at once, and works with Flow to copy and past between different operating systems.
One of the most noteworthy changes on the MX Master 3 is that it gains USB-C for charging, replacing Micro USB, which is fantastic news for owners of modern Macs who want to simplify their cable lives and just stick with one standard where possible. Because that matches up with the USB-C used on the MX Keys, that means you can just use one cable for charging both when needed. The MX Master 3 gets up to 70 days on a full charge, and you can gain three hours of use from a fully exhausted battery with just one minute of charging.
Logitech has long been a leader in keyboard and mice for very good reason, and the company’s ability to iterate on its existing successes with improvements that are smart and make sense is impressive. The MX Keys is probably the best keyboard within its price range that you can get right now — and better than a lot of more premium-priced hardware. The MX Master 3 is without a doubt the only mouse I’d recommend for most people, especially now that it offers USB-C charging alongside its terrific feature set. Combined, they’re a powerful desktop pair for work, creative and general use.
The personnel move had been delayed as National Health Service (NHS) trusts considered whether to shift their existing DeepMind contracts — some for a clinical task management app, others involving predictive health AI research — to Google.
In a blog post yesterday Dr Dominic King, formerly of DeepMind (and the NHS), now UK site lead at Google Health, confirmed the transfer, writing: “It’s clear that a transition like this takes time. Health data is sensitive, and we gave proper time and care to make sure that we had the full consent and cooperation of our partners. This included giving them the time to ask questions and fully understand our plans and to choose whether to continue our partnerships. As has always been the case, our partners are in full control of all patient data and we will only use patient data to help improve care, under their oversight and instructions.”
The Royal Free NHS Trust, Taunton & Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust all put out statements yesterday confirming they have moved their contractual arrangements to Google.
In the case of the Royal Free, patients’ Streams data is moving to the Google Cloud Platform infrastructure to support expanding use of the app which surfaces alerts for a kidney condition to another of its hospitals (Barnet Hospital).
One NHS trust, Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, has not signed a new contract — and says it had never deployed Streams, suggesting it had not found a satisfactory way to integrate the app with its existing ways of working — instead taking the decision to terminate the arrangement. Though it’s leaving the door open to future health service provision from Google.
A spokeswoman for Yeovil hospital sent us this statement:
We began our relationship with DeepMind in 2017 and since then have been determining what part the Streams application could play in clinical decision making here at Yeovil Hospital.
The app was never operationalised, and no patient data was processed.
What’s key for us as a hospital, when it comes to considering the implementation of any new piece of technology, is whether it improves the effectiveness and safety of patient care and how it tessellates with existing ways of working. Working with the DeepMind team, we found that Streams is not necessary for our organisation at the current time.
Whilst our contractual relationship has ended, we will remain an anchor partner of Google Health so will continue to be part of conversations about emerging technology which may be of benefit to our patients and our clinician in the future.
The hand-off of DeepMind Health to Google, which was announced just over a year ago, means the tech giant is now directly providing software services to a number of NHS trusts that had signed contracts with DeepMind for Streams; as well as taking over several AI research partnerships that involve the use of NHS patients’ data to try to develop predictive diagnostic models using AI technology.
DeepMind — which kicked off its health efforts by signing an agreement with the Royal Free NHS Trust in 2015, going on to publicly announce the health division in spring 2016 — said last year its future focus would be as a “research organisation”.
As recently as this July DeepMind was also touting a predictive healthcare research “breakthrough” — announcing it had trained a deep learning model for continuously predicting the future likelihood of a patient developing a life-threatening condition called acute kidney injury. (Though the AI is trained on heavily gender-skewed data from the US department of Veteran Affairs.)
Yet it’s now become clear that it’s handed off several of its key NHS research partnerships to Google Health as part of the Streams transfer.
In its statement about the move yesterday, UCLH writes that “it was proposed” that its DeepMind research partnership — which is related to radiotherapy treatment for patients with head and neck cancer — be transferred to Google Health, saying this will enable it to “make use of Google’s scale and experience to deliver potential breakthroughs to patients more rapidly”.
“We will retain control over the anonymised data and remain responsible for deciding how it is used,” it adds. “The anonymised data is encrypted and only accessible to a limited number of researchers who are working on this project with UCLH’s permission. Access to the data will only be granted for officially approved research purposes and will be automatically audited and logged.”
It’s worth pointing out that the notion of “anonymised” high dimension health data should be treated with a healthy degree of scepticism — given the risk of re-identification.
Moorfields also identifies Google’s “resources” as the incentive for agreeing for its eye-scan related research partnership to be handed off, writing: “This updated partnership will allow us to draw on Google’s resources and expertise to extend the benefits of innovations that AI offers to more of our clinicians and patients.”
Quite where this leaves DeepMind’s ambitions to “lead the way in fundamental research applying AI to important science and medical research questions, in collaboration with academic partners, to accelerate scientific progress for the benefit of everyone”, as it put it last year — when it characterized the hand-off to Google Health as all about ‘scaling Streams’ — remains to be seen.
We’ve reached out to DeepMind for comment on that.
Co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, who’s been taking a leave of absence from the company, tweeted yesterday to congratulate the Google Health team.
When we started DeepMind Health 3 years ago it was because we believed good research and smart software could make a difference to patients & nurses & doctors. Proud to be part of this journey. Huge progress delivered already, and so much more to come for this incredible team. https://t.co/zynBrrlgUc
— Mustafa Suleyman (@mustafasuleymn) September 18, 2019
DeepMind’s NHS research contracts also transferring to Google Health suggests the tech giants wants zero separation between core AI health research and the means of application, using its own cloud infrastructure, of any promising models it’s able to train off of patient data and commercialize by selling to the same healthcare services providers as apps and services.
You could say Google is seeking to bundle access to the high resolution patient data that’s essential for developing health AIs with the provision of commercial digital healthcare services it hopes to sell hospitals down the line, all funnelled through the same Google cloud infrastructure.
As we reported at the time, the hand-off of DeepMind Health to Google is controversial.
Firstly because the trust that partnered with DeepMind in 2015 to develop Streams was later found by the UK’s data protection watchdog to have breached UK law. The ICO said there was no legal basis for the Royal Free to have shared the medical records of ~1.6M patients with DeepMind during the app’s development.
Despite concerns being raised over the legal basis for sharing patients’ data throughout 2016 and 2017 DeepMind continued inking NHS contracts for Streams — claiming at the time that patient data would never be handed to Google. Yet fast forward a couple of years and it’s now literally sitting on the tech giant’s servers.
It’s that U-turn that led the DeepMind to Google Health hand-off to be branded a trust demolition by legal experts on the news breaking last year.
This summer the UK’s patient data watchdog, the National Data Guardian, released correspondence between her office and the ICO which informed the latter’s 2017 finding that Streams had breached data protection law — in which she articulates a clear regulatory position that the “reasonable expectations” of patients must govern non-direct care uses for people’s health data, rather than healthcare providers relying on doctors to decide whether they think the intended purpose for people’s medical information is justified.
The Google Health blog post talks a lot about “patient care” and “patient data” but has nothing to say about patients’ expectations of how their personal information should be used, with King writing that “our partners are in full control of all patient data and we will only use patient data to help improve care, under their oversight and instructions”.
It was exactly such an ethical blindspot around the patient’s perspective that led Royal Free doctors to override considerations about people’s medical privacy in the rush to throw their lot in with Google-DeepMind and scramble for AI-fuelled predictive healthcare.
Patient consent was not sought for passing medical records then; nor have patients’ views been consulted in the transfer of Streams contracts (and people’s data) to Google now.
And while — after it was faced with public outcry over the NHS data it was processing — DeepMind did go on to publish its contracts with NHS trusts (with some redactions), Google Health is not offering any such transparency on the replacement contracts that have been inked now. So it’s not clear whether there have been any other changes to the terms. Patients have to take all that on trust.
We reached out to the Royal Free Trust with questions about the new contract with Google but a spokeswoman just pointed us to the statement on its website — where it writes: “All migration and implementation will be completed to the highest standards of security and will be compliant with relevant data protection legislation and NHS information governance requirements.”
“As with all of our arrangements with third parties, the Royal Free London remains the data controller in relation to all personal data. This means we retain control over that personal data at all times and are responsible for deciding how that data is used for the benefit of patient care,” it adds.
In another reduction in transparency accompanying this hand-off from DeepMind to Google Health, an independent panel of reviewers that DeepMind appointed to oversee its work with the NHS in another bid to boost trust has been disbanded.
“As we announced in November, that review structure — which worked for a UK entity primarily focused on finding and developing healthcare solutions with and for the NHS — is not the right structure for a global effort set to work across continents as well as different health services,” King confirmed yesterday.
In its annual report last year the panel had warned of the risk of DeepMind exerting “excessive monopoly power” as a result of the data access and streaming infrastructure bundled with provision of the Streams app. For DeepMind then read Google now.
Independent experts raising concerns about monopoly power unsurprisingly doesn’t align with Google’s global ambitions in future healthcare provision.
The last word from the independent reviewers is a Medium post penned by former chair, professor Donal O’Donoghue — who writes that he’s “disappointed that the IR experiment did not have the time to run its course and I am sad to say goodbye to a project I’ve found fascinating”.
“This was a fascinating exploration into how a new governance model could be applied to such an important area such as health,” he adds. “It’s hard to know how this would have developed over the years but… what is clear to me is that trust and transparency are of paramount importance in healthcare and I’m keen to see how Google Health, and other providers, deliver this in the future.”
But with trust demolished and transparency reduced Google Health appears to have learnt exactly nothing from DeepMind’s missteps.