Ruth Barnett

Google DeepMind has expanded its public relations and communications team as data regulators prepare to pass decisions that have the potential to damage the company’s image.

In the last two weeks, Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) lab has hired ex-Snapchat PR Ruth Barnett and former BBC News tech editor Jon Fildes, meaning that DeepMind now has around five full-time media relations staff.

London-based DeepMind relied on Google’s army of PR employees up until last October when it started building out its own team. The unit is headed up by Ollie Rickman, who worked in comms at Google for several years before leaving to become a partner at Milltown Partners, which advises companies, individuals and families on strategic communications, reputation management, and privacy protection.

The latest PR appointments at DeepMind, which is developing algorithms that can learn and think for themselves, come as the company faces increasing scrutiny from regulators and the media.

Of particular note is a controversial data-sharing deal that gave DeepMind access to 1.6 million NHS medical records without patients being informed. This week, it emerged that Dame Fiona Caldicott, the National Data Guardian the most senior data protection adviser to the NHS, concluded that the deal was legally inappropriate.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK’s main data watchdog, is carrying out its own investigation into whether the deal was legal under the Data Protection Act and a verdict is expected to be made public in the coming weeks. 

However, Business Insider understands that Barnett and Fildes were not hired to work on the DeepMind Health side of the business.

DeepMind enjoyed a lot of positive publicity after it developed an algorithm that successfully defeated the world champion of Chinese board game Go — an incredibly difficult game for machines to master due to the sheer number of potential moves.

The research company, which has published over 100 papers and is widely regarded as a British success story, has also made headlines for helping Google to save vast amounts of energy in its power-hungry data centres.

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