In yet another twist to Facebook’s data breach problems, CNBC revealed another questionable plan by Facebook: to match up user profiles with actual medical records from hospitals. Presumably due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, however, the plan has been paused for the time being.
Facebook was in talks with notable hospitals like Stanford Medical School and American College of Cardiology. The company hoped to receive anonymized data from the hospitals, which they would later match up to an actual Facebook user through “hashing.”
The information that Facebook was looking for included patients’ illnesses, prescriptions, and even the number of trips they took to the hospital in the past year. The social media giant allegedly pitched the scenario to hospitals with a positive slant: the medical information could be matched up with social information in order to provide even better healthcare.
For example, Facebook could determine if an old woman who goes home after surgery has friends or family to take care of them after the procedure. If not, then a nurse could be sent over to check on the woman.
Federal and state privacy laws protect people’s medical information, and for good reason. According to the Institute of Medicine (U.S.) Committee on Health Research and the Privacy of Health Information, breaches of private medical information can be harmful. It can cause discrimination, especially when the information is released to employers or health insurance companies.
There are already existing cases of reported breaches of medical information. For example, Wal-Mart allegedly used medical information to base employment hiring decisions. Also, geneticists admitted that employers had accessed genetics testing information, which was then used to refuse employment, fire, and deny life insurance to people.
An official statement from Facebook noted the following.
“Last month we decided that we should pause these discussions so we can focus on other important work, including doing a better job of protecting people’s data and being clearer with them about how that data is used in our products and services.”
Meanwhile, someone familiar with the project said that nobody brought up questions about patient consent during the planning stages.
Also, the project was part of Building 8, which is a secretive branch of Facebook. TechCrunch previously reported that Building 8 was developing a brain-computer interface. Furthermore, Ars Technica discussed Facebook’s recent decision to pause their release of a smart home speaker, which was going to be a competitor to Google Home and Amazon Echo.