An independent review panel has said Deepmind Health should be “more transparent about its business model” and explain how it makes its money.

The panel was created in 2016 when Deepmind Health was established. It members meet quarterly to “scrutinise” the company’s work with the NHS, and publish an annual report outlining their findings.

The company has two “principle threads” – its Streams app, which helps clinicians better identify and treat acute kidney infection (and which is currently being used at the Royal Free Hospital in north London), and its research into faster assessment of retinal imaging using machine learning.

Deepmind’s business model was the focus of the panel’s latest report, with a particular focus on the relationship with its parent company, Alphabet, which is a holding of Google.

The report calls for Deepmind to be “more transparent about its business model” following a change in public opinion.

The panel points out that public has turned “strongly against the tech giants” in light of the scandal involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

It adds: “Against this background it is hardly surprising that the public should question the motivations of a company so closely linked to Google as Deepmind Health.”

Therefore, the report adds, it is “important for the public to have reassurance about Deepmind Health’s business model” with a focus on how patient data is used and how the company makes its money.

The report states there would be “considerable sensitivity” if the company made money through “selling data” or if the data was used “to tune advertising”, though it adds there is not evidence which supports this.

It says: “From what we have seen, neither of these are at all envisaged or considered as desirable revenue sources by Deepmind Health.”

The independent panel therefore urges the company to “set out publicly” its business framework.

Members add: “Given the current environment, and with no clarity about DeepMind Health’s business model, people are likely to suspect that there must be an undisclosed profit motive or a hidden agenda.

“We do not believe this to be the case, but would urge DeepMind Health to be transparent about their business model, and their ability to stick to that without being overridden by Alphabet.

“Once an idea of hidden agendas is fixed in people’s mind, it is hard to shift, no matter how much a company is motivated by the public good.”

In its response to the publication, Deepmind thanked the panel for the report and confirmed the company would be working on a number of the recommendations in the “coming months”.

This included putting together a “longer-term business model and roadmap”.

The response said: “We believe that our business model should flow from the positive impact we create, and will continue to explore outcomes-based elements so that costs are at least in part related to the benefits we deliver.”

The independent panel’s first report, published in July 2017, told Deepmind that unless it changes its public reputation its work could be undermined.

That particular review came just two days after the Information Commission’s Office (ICO) said the initial partnership between the Royal Free and DeepMind, which saw 1.6 million patient’s records transferred, broke data protection law.

The unpaid review panel are:
  • Mike Bracken  
  • Martin Bromiley
  • Elisabeth Buggins
  • Eileen Burbidge
  • Richard Horton
  • Julian Huppert
  • Donal O’Donoghue
  • Matthew Taylor
  • John Tooke