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Facebook attempted to get hold of users’ medical records for, er, ‘research’

THE SOCIAL NETWORK Facebook attempted to get hold of US users’ medical records, according to a report at CNBC.

According to the report, Facebook approached “several major US hospitals to share anonymised data about their patients, such as illnesses and prescription info, for a proposed research project.”

While the firm would obscure personally identifiable information, it reportedly planned to match the medical records with user data it had collected in order to “help the hospitals figure out which patients might need special care or treatment.”

However, the report notes that the so-called project has since been put on hold since the Cambridge Analytica data scandal erupted – which Facebook this week admitted affected 87 million users of the social network, up from the 50 million initially reported.

“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.

The report notes, however, that the company was talking to several health organisations – including Stanford Medical School and American College of Cardiology – about signing the data-sharing agreement as recently as last month.

While the prospect of Facebook getting its hands on users medical data is extremely worrying, particularly in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica hoo-hah, the project would have had its benefits, according to experts.

Facebook’s pitch, according to people familiar with the project, was to combine what a health system knows about its patients with what Facebook knows. This could help to determine whether an elderly patient that doesn’t have many nearby close friends or much support needed extra medical help after a major surgery, for example.

Cathleen Gates, the interim CEO of the American College of Cardiology, said to CNBC: “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.”

Seperately this week, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, has come out of hiding to address the Cambridge Analytica breach. 

“We thought that the data had been deleted, and you’re right, we should have checked,” she said, unconvincingly, during an interview on the Today show

Sanberg went on to say that while Facebook is giving users the option to opt out of sharing some data, an option to not share any data would be a “paid product”. µ

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