- Facebook introduced a new consumer health tool Monday meant to incentivize use of preventive care measures, in a move sure to rile patient privacy organizations. In return for a user's age and sex, the social media giant will supply recommendations for heart, cancer and flu preventive measures.
- In an effort to preempt health privacy concerns, Facebook said it would not use any personal health information generated by the pilot for targeted advertising and that it would never be shared externally.
- The move comes after earlier this year, lawmakers wrote Facebook after a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission that alleged users' health information had been exposed.
The Menlo Park, California-based tech company has rolled out initiatives spanning the healthcare gamut from radiology to suicide prevention, blood drives to addiction treatment and opioid misuse to, as of Monday, preventive care.
In the latest effort, Facebook itself doesn't provide the health information. The service called Preventive Health includes data and insights from the American Cancer Society, the Association of Cancer Care, the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control.
"The goal here is to take the amazing wisdom of the organizations we're partnering with and take this wisdom and experience and research and deliver it in a consumer-friendly way to the pockets of our entire Facebook community, so they can engage with these preventive health recommendations and advice and become their own health advocates," Facebook's head of health research Freddy Abnousi said.
Representatives of each partner group, save the CDC, talked up the virtues of the new product to reporters in a briefing Sunday at HLTH in Las Vegas.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and cancer is the second.
"How better than for us to collaborate with Facebook for a platform such as this?" Dipti Itchhaporia, vice president-elect for the American College of Cardiology, said.
In 2018, Facebook asked several large U.S. health systems to share anonymized patient data for a research project, an initiative that was put on pause following intense public backlash and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Patient consent was reportedly never discussed in the early planning talks.
However, the tech behemoth — which raked in almost $7 billion in profits last year, most of it from digital advertising — promised this new pilot would be different.
No other Facebook user will be able to see whether a user is implementing the tool, and any personal health data generated will be stored in a different way so that it's not accessible to any Facebook partner organizations or employees and never shared externally, Abnousi said. The site will not show any advertisement based off any of the information shared on the service.
Abnousi did clarify that if a user liked the American Cancer Society's page or accessed other unrelated health pages, for example, that information would continue to inform advertising. Third-party apps both inside and outside the healthcare ecosystem already willingly share data with Facebook to enable the company to match their ads to users.
The effort is being piloted for heart disease, cancer and flu. Facebook will spend six to 12 months evaluating the trial before potentially expanding to other preventable conditions.