Facebook Health? Thumbs Down - InformationWeek
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Healthcare // Patient Tools
Commentary
10/6/2014
10:22 AM
Alison Diana
Alison Diana
Commentary
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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
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

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 has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio
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David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
10/13/2014 | 7:48:44 PM
Re: Perfect
Alison- Right. None of them have the baggage of Facebook. But none of them have the reach and scope of Facebook either. It is a tradeoff.
BillB031
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BillB031,
User Rank: Moderator
10/10/2014 | 2:06:36 PM
Reminds me of why I quit FB
This article reminds me of precisely why I quit Facebook two years ago.  The whole business model of FB is to intrude into your life unsuspectedly, to sell off your personal information to anyone willing to pay for it.  All they provide is this phony playground to keep you busy contributing.
JoshuaN169
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JoshuaN169,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/9/2014 | 4:53:50 PM
Re: Perfect
Hi Alison,

Could you please point me to wear you read about this?  I'm very interested.

Thanks!
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
10/9/2014 | 4:48:23 PM
Re: Yet social healthcare is a thing already
I never go anywhere near health discussions on Facebook, and I won't. Not surprising FB wants in but I don't see many consumers helping them...
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/7/2014 | 10:08:18 AM
Re: Yet social healthcare is a thing already
Sure, bragging that you ran 5 miles or sweated off 2,000 calories is part of social media, especially Facebook. But discussing the pain of losing a limb or the depression of supporting a child who's got leukemia on a Facebook community? I'm sure some will have no problem with it. But, for me, I wouldn't want to reveal my innermost turmoil on a site that's known to have done so many 180-degree flips with user privacy.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/7/2014 | 10:05:44 AM
Re: Facebook a medical resource?
We'll also see patients increasingly empowered to seek information directly from their health systems as hospitals and affiliated physicians use portals to communicate with and educate patients. In addition to scheduling appointments and getting lab results, the most forward-thinking providers already use portals to share information on a range of conditions like diabetes and heart health, exercise, healthy recipes, etc. Often they license content from reputable medical sources and couple it with information derived from their staff -- such as blogs from their clinicians, videos of their various departments, etc. -- giving their community access to useful medical information from a trusted source within their very neighborhood. Part of population health and patient engagement trends, portals are a great way for hospitals to remain part of patients' lives when they're no longer 'patients' and to help consumers remain educated and healthy. 

They also, if done well and marketed successfully, alleviate the need of people to go to a site like Facebook for virtual support since they combine the benefits of both virtual and physical support from a local healthcare provider.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
10/7/2014 | 9:29:17 AM
Re: Facebook a medical resource?
Alison, 

Exactly, sites that have medical approval and trusted information. When I want to read about certain condition I usually check the Mayo Clinic. Web MD is also good. And there are others where you see the information is reliable.

I recently found out, for example, that when you take iron supplements for several months you can gain weight, that you lose when you end the treatment. I suspected about this, but I was not sure about it. I checked and got the confirmation.

But I would have never asked Facebook, or any FB group. Maybe it's also because I don't link FB with something like health, or anything of the like.

-Susan  
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/7/2014 | 9:14:36 AM
Re: Facebook a medical resource?
It's so important to search on sites that have medical approval or backing, sites like the Mayo Clinic for example or CDC. If you're seeking information on a condition you may or do have, you can make yourself sicker sometimes if you seek information on off-shoot sites. That said, not all medical information is accurate and some people do heal or live better lives with alternative treatments. Support groups, in and of themselves, don't necessarily have to be sponsored by anyone affiliated with a medical organization. After all, people join these sites to get support, ask questions of people going through the same thing, see if their drug side effects are the norm, and so forth. I am sure Facebook can technologically provide all that and more. I'm just uncomfortable, given the company's past history with user privacy. 
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
10/7/2014 | 2:41:31 AM
Facebook a medical resource?
Alison, 

"Part of Facebook's hunger for healthcare came after it determined diabetics searched the site for advice on their condition ... "

When I read that I couldn't help but wonder what kind of people search for specific medical advice on Facebook. On Facebook? Since when Facebook is a medical resource? There are plenty of good, trusted medical resources on the Internet. 

So, after that, I thought if people are not getting from Facebook what they deserve. After all, Facebook is just a business and it's going to seek opportunity anywhere where it sees it. 

-Susan
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
10/6/2014 | 8:32:12 PM
Yet social healthcare is a thing already
How does my wife know when friends and relatives have stopped using their Fitbits or are outpacing her and daring her to do better? Because of an app that shares those stats on Facebook. Not surprising that FB sees the potential when it is already happening.
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