Facebook Health? Thumbs Down - InformationWeek

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Healthcare // Patient Tools
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10/6/2014
10:22 AM
Alison Diana
Alison Diana
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Facebook Health? Thumbs Down

Facebook may be eyeing the healthcare space to create new communities and apps. Given Facebook's privacy history, users will be wary.

Facebook: 10 New Changes That Matter
Facebook: 10 New Changes That Matter
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Facebook, already an expert at building communities, collecting a wealth of members' information, and developing a powerful search tool, reportedly is ogling the healthcare market -- although it may use a pseudonym.

The company is considering creating online support networks to connect people who have various conditions, and a small group of internal staff is reviewing "preventative care" apps, Reuters reported. Facebook might use a spinoff or separate company to operate these healthcare initiatives, according to the news service.

While I'll post the occasional complaint about a headache or flu on my Facebook feed, I am uncomfortable about entrusting Facebook (under any name) with deeper insight into any medical information beyond the odd ache or pain. Last week the company published a public mea culpa and promised to "do better" after previously demanding that drag queens, transgenders, stalking victims, and others use their real names on their Facebook accounts.

[Facebook has apologized for toying with users' emotions. See Facebook Mood Experiment Prompts New Guidelines.]

Part of Facebook's hunger for healthcare came after it determined diabetics searched the site for advice on their condition, an ex-Facebook insider told Reuters. Of course businesses perform analytics and diagnostics on how customers use their products or services. But when you have users' real names, the names of their closest friends and family members, and add in their health information, the small hairs on the back of my neck rise a little -- unless there are some very firm, very clear privacy agreements written in plain English.

Online communities for patients with chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome are not new. Typically, they offer patients, families, and caregivers information on the condition and treatment, support, chat areas, and sometimes shopping. But privacy and revenue are sensitive areas. While some patients freely share information about their conditions, others prefer to keep that information private from colleagues, employers, marketers, or the world at large. With complex, frequently changing terms of service and a poor track record of safeguarding users' privacy, Facebook will have a tough time convincing some users it will treat health-related information differently from cat videos or complaints about poor service at a restaurant.

Whereas new sites start from Ground Zero and must prove they are worthy of members' trust, a Facebook healthcare community begins at a deficit for some. Only last week it apologized for toying with users' emotions in its mood-manipulation experiment.

Privacy questions arose again last week after Facebook rolled out a rebuilt version of Atlas, an advertising service it acquired in 2013 from Microsoft. The software was designed to allow advertisers to use Facebook members' information to send them targeted ads on outside sites, especially on smartphones and tablets, which raised questions about intrusion.

"This expands the surveillance economy into ever more important and intimate aspects of a person's life," particularly when it comes to cross-device targeting on mobile, Neil Richards, a professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis who studies digital privacy, told PCWorld.

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Alison Diana is an experienced technology, business and broadband editor and reporter. She has covered topics from artificial intelligence and smart homes to satellites and fiber optic cable, diversity and bullying in the workplace to measuring ROI and customer experience. An ... View Full Bio
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David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
10/6/2014 | 1:32:33 PM
Re: Perfect
@Lorna- Thanks. Last week was rough. I've got the right combo of medicine now that let's me stay awake but pain-free. :)
anon0566345261
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anon0566345261,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/6/2014 | 1:25:56 PM
Re: Perfect
The biggest complaint I have is that all too often whatever personal information we thought we had on the web is and was no longer personal.

I agree with @Lorna when it comes to employers doing background checks they now request/require your social media user names, some ask for passwords if the pages are set to private when filling out job applications. If you have a chronic illness that may require you to take multiple days off work, and are in the market to find a new job, do you pose some sort of risk for being able to do your job? This sort of prejudice can also show in family's who have multiple kids that are in multiple activities or in families with kids who have some sort of malady. If you have a child who has special needs your time at work could be jeopardized if medical / special care is needed at home.

The old adage kicks in: Perception is reality. Even if you never missed a day of work or an occasional day and have had an illness for a while, once the cat is out of the bag, now everything you do could be scrutinized. Think about the young workers just out of college today. Many of them have pictures of them partying on Fri/Sat weeks or months ago and yet miss work one Monday and suddenly they are labeled or called out. Or what about a husband and wife on the rocks. Does that suddenly discredit any decision that they have made while their family is in turmoil, because people who are under duress can make rash decisions.

Then on the other hand, how soon will it be that someone will talk about a chronic illness and suddenly get targeted for research drugs, advertising etc.? Or asked to participate in other activities regarding their illness. While almost all are looking for a sympathetic ear, most individuals don't understand how far the reach and lack of privacy they have when they post things in social media.

It's not fair by any stretch of the imagination that in this day and age we could be discriminated against because we have an illness, but making it easier to track on social media is just begging for issues.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/6/2014 | 1:25:25 PM
Re: Perfect
Oh, and sorry about the kidney stones. That does NOT sound like fun.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
10/6/2014 | 12:57:21 PM
Re: Perfect
@Lorna- Well, that's fine. But that seems to leave like 90% of illnesses on the table. Seems like there's plenty for both Facebook and its customers. Plus, some percentage of people with more "private" illnesses won't necessarily be afraid to share depending on their life situations. 

There are obviously tons of forums out there for illnesses, but few are as large or have the ability to bring people together as Facebook. I think this will be great.

Though I agree with you, if i had a mental illness (which carries more stigma in the US than it should) I would certainly keep it off Facebook. There are limits.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/6/2014 | 12:50:27 PM
Re: Perfect
I fall into Alison's camp here. Kidney stones, a flu, or a migraine are one thing. But discussing more chronic conditions, like diabetes or cancer, could backfire big time if an employer (or potential employer) saw that info and used it a career decision. No matter how many privacy assurances Facebook gave, I'd never trust it with anything I would mind the world knowing.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
10/6/2014 | 12:31:00 PM
Perfect
@Alison- I don't know. This past week I was diagnosed with kidney stones. The first thing I did after waking up from the heavy arsenal of drugs they gave me to get rid of the crazy pain I was in was go to Facebook to talk to my friends about it.

There are obvious reasons for this. I wanted to know if anyone had gone through it before. I couldn't really do much else form bed anyway. I wanted them to know why I was suddenly silent when I'm an active poster. And let's face it, I wanted sympathy.

People are already going to Facebook for their health issues. They might as well have a more formal mechanism to get the best access to community possible.
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