Facebook recently hit the pause button on a secret data-sharing plan with top hospitals and the American College of Cardiology in light of reports that the personal data of over 87 million Facebook users was compromised by the political research firm Cambridge Analytica.
An interventional cardiologist, working out of Facebook’s experimental projects department, approached hospitals including Stanford University School of Medicine to gauge interest in sharing anonymized data sets with the social network, according to a report by CNBC. The ultimate goal of the project was to find a way to combine the data sets through an anonymizing process called “hashing” to match patients in both data sets, thereby finding new ways to identify developing heart health issues and deliver care more quickly, according to the report.
“Facebook’s pitch, according to two people who heard it and one who is familiar with the project, was to combine what a health system knows about its patients (such as: person has heart disease, is age 50, takes 2 medications and made 3 trips to the hospital this year) with what Facebook knows (such as: user is age 50, married with 3 kids, English isn’t a primary language, actively engages with the community by sending a lot of messages),” the report stated.
According to officials quoted anonymously by CNBC, early on in talks to go ahead with the plan, the matter of gaining Facebook users’ consent to use their data was not discussed. User consent is at the heart of the current Cambridge Analytica leak and scandal—and providers typically are wary about sharing patient data due to the risk of inadvertently exposing the identity of a patient.
“Consumers wouldn’t have assumed their data would be used in this way,” Aneesh Chopra, former White House chief technology officer and president of the health software firm CareJourney told CNBC. “If Facebook moves ahead (with its plans), I would be wary of efforts that repurpose user data without explicit consent.”
Both Facebook and the American College of Cardiology told CNBC that the project was only in early planning stages and that no data had yet been exchanged.
“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,” Facebook said in a statement to the news organization.