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USA Today

Facebook Entered Into Talks With U.S. Hospitals To Share Patient Data

April 5, 2018

Its no secret that Facebook has been under heavy fire for their misuse of user data. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data leak, a new proposed project has come to light, which involves data-sharing between the social media giant and health organizations.

Facebook had already sent out an interventional cardiologist, Freddy Abnousi, to ask several major U.S. hospitals to share anonymized data on their patients. However, the project was suspended after the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal, and never got past the planning phase. A Facebook rep confirmed the status of the project, saying, "This work has not progressed past the planning phase, and we have not received, shared, or analyzed anyone's data." 

The intent was to combine what med providers know about patients with what Facebook knows. Though the information shared would be anonymous, Facebook reportedly proposed using a method called "hashing" to identify individuals with data in both sets. Several people involved in the initial pitch claim that Facebook wanted to determine if the combined data could improve patient care. For example, if a patient underwent a major surgery and does not have many family or friends living near by, the health provider could send over a nurse to check on the patient.

Facebook also released a statement from Cathleen Gates, the interim CEO of the American College of Cardiology, who explains the potential benefits of the project:

"For the first time in history, people are sharing information about themselves online in ways that may help determine how to improve their health. As part of its mission to transform cardiovascular care and improve heart health, the American College of Cardiology has been engaged in discussions with Facebook around the use of anonymized Facebook data, coupled with anonymized ACC data, to further scientific research on the ways social media can aid in the prevention and treatment of heart disease—the #1 cause of death in the world. This partnership is in the very early phases as we work on both sides to ensure privacy, transparency and scientific rigor. No data has been shared between any parties."