In response to reports that accused the social media platform of exposing health data and misleading users, Facebook unveiled a new health support group feature to bolster user privacy.
Social media giant Facebook is attempting to right the ship when it comes to how it handles sensitive data with its launch of a new health support tool designed to help users find the right groups to address their health needs and concerns.
Unveiled at Facebook’s annual F8 conference, founder Mark Zuckerberg opened the event with a keynote centered around privacy and how the company intends to make a “fundamental shift in how we build products and run our company.”
“Different communities have different needs, so we’re introducing new features for different types of groups,” Fidji Simo, head of the Facebook app said during the conference. “Through new Health Support groups, members can post questions and share information without their name appearing on a post.”
Group members will be able to send questions and posts to the health group administrators, who’ll then be able to post those questions on their behalf to the group. The designation of “health group” is a new function and likely comes in response to recent reports that criticized how the app handles health data.
In a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, a group of health privacy experts accused Facebook of misleading users about its privacy policies – even in groups with a “closed” designation. Made public in February, the 43-page complaint alleged the social media platform ““deceptively solicited patients to use its ‘Groups’ product to share personal health information about their health issues.”
The group also accused the company of failing to protect the sensitive health data uploaded by its users, which was then exposed to the public. Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal report found several apps share sensitive user data with Facebook, often without user consent.
In response, Facebook is currently under investigation by the New York Attorney General who called the practice “an outrageous abuse of privacy.”
While a recent report from WEGO Health found that 98 percent of the 400 surveyed users still use Facebook, the new privacy features may not be enough for privacy and security leaders.
In December, Carolyn Petersen, Mayo Clinic Global Business Solutions Senior Editor, and Christoph Lehmann, MD, Professor for Biomedical Informatics and Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University called for transparent privacy policies for healthcare data on social media platforms.
To Petersen and Lehmann, the revelations about Facebook’s handling of user data have left “individuals who use social media feeling betrayed, bereft, violated, and concerned about how to safely and appropriately use social media to support health-related goals and build community.”
Alongside privacy policies, a federal, comprehensive privacy protection system and data regulation and oversight is needed.
“Social media companies that use security practices to shield themselves from the exposure of their privacy-violating practices, are vigorously fighting these initiatives,” they said. “With the passage of legislation prohibiting deceptive practices and the establishment of patient/consumer education campaigns … patients will be in a position to use social media for their benefit, rather than primarily for the gain of profit-focused platforms.”
Date: May 14, 2019
Source: Health IT Security