Where would Facebook’s rumoured healthcare service leave user privacy?


Facebook is reportedly in talks with medical industry experts to develop a healthcare product or feature for its 829-million daily active users. While this might change the healthcare industry as we know it, where should the line be between public and private user information?

Anonymous sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that Facebook is exploring creating online support communities that would connect users suffering from various ailments. Furthermore, the company is also looking into preventative care applications to help improve lifestyles in general.

Traditionally the doctor-patient confidentiality agreement is an integral part of the medical field but when you add user data and advertisers to the mix, it becomes blurry.

Facebook is sitting on a huge pile of user information — from geography to age and routines. So much so that it’s a bit creepy.

Pharmaceutical companies would have a field day. Not to mention insurance firms. Imagine you updating your status to having bronchitis, only to be crowded with suggestions on cough syrup. At the same time, your risk profile gets updated.

As Frank Williams from software company Evolent Health warns Reuters, “People would need anonymity and an assurance that their data and comments wouldn’t be shared with their online contacts, advertisers, or pharmaceutical companies.”

After Facebook received negative feedback when users unknowingly partook in experimental research earlier this year, the social network recently updated its research policy to approach user data more responsibly.

According to Reuters’ sources, the social network is considering rolling out its first health application quietly and under a different name.

This wouldn’t be the first time the blue giant is flirting with healthcare. In May 2012 when Facebook launched its organ donor status program, almost 60 000 people willingly updated their profiles to include an organ donor status. US non-profit Donate Life California reported that, in partnership with the social network, its sign-up rate increased by 1 400% with the first twenty four hours.

Image: KGW.



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