Would the patient data have stayed private and anonymous?
Facebook’s secret quest to gather patient data may have been for a good cause. It may have remained anonymous and secure. The story, however, seems quite creepy. It the data had leaked to a third party contractor, would Facebook even learn about the leak before it was too late?
The fact that they kept their agenda “secret” further indicates they knew the public would not like it.
Facebook has asked several major U.S. hospitals to share anonymized data about their patients, such as illnesses and prescription info, for a proposed research project. Facebook was intending to match it up with user data it had collected, and help the hospitals figure out which patients might need special care or treatment.
The proposal never went past the planning phases and has been put on pause after the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal raised public concerns over how Facebook and others collect and use detailed information about Facebook users.
“This work has not progressed past the planning phase, and we have not received, shared, or analyzed anyone’s data,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC.
But as recently as last month, the company was talking to several health organizations, including Stanford Medical School and American College of Cardiology, about signing the data-sharing agreement.
While the data shared would obscure personally identifiable information, such as the patient’s name, Facebook proposed using a common computer science technique called “hashing” to match individuals who existed in both sets. Facebook says the data would have been used only for research conducted by the medical community.
The project could have raised new concerns about the massive amount of data Facebook collects about its users, and how this data can be used in ways users never expected.
That issue has been in the spotlight after reports that Cambridge Analytica, a political research organization that did work for Donald Trump, improperly got ahold of detailed information about Facebook users without their permission. It then tried to use this data to target political ads to them.
Facebook said on Wednesday that as many as 87 million people’s data might have been shared this way. The company has recently announced new privacy policies and controls meant to restrict the type of data it collects and shares, and how that data can be used.
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