Facebook’s new tool wants to track your health and keep you well
Facebook is rolling out its latest new idea across the United States – a preventative health tool, designed to remind users when their health checkups are due and where to go to get them. The recommendations delivered by the new tool are based on information provided by several independent organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The tool is accessible by searching for "Preventative Health" on the Facebook platform, and personalized health recommendations will be based on age and sex data supplied by the user. Based on guidelines supplied by organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the CDC, the tool will offer users information on what health checkups they should undertake. These tests could include colorectal cancer screening for subjects in their 50s or regular blood pressure checkups for older users.
“Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women around the world and in many cases it is 100 percent preventable,” says Richard Kovacs, president of the American College of Cardiology. “By incorporating prevention reminders into platforms people are accessing every day, we’re giving people the tools they need to be proactive about their heart health.”
Part of the initial roll out of the tool includes annual reminders for flu vaccines, and information on where users can go to get a flu shot. Nancy Messonnier, from the CDC, suggests the new tool could help spread positive vaccine information and increase the numbers of people getting vaccinated.
“New tools like this will empower users with instant access to information and resources they need to become a flu fighter in their own communities,” says Messonnier.
Privacy and data security is of course something Facebook is eager to address, and the company has released a separate statement claiming the information gathered by the new health tool will not be shared with any third party. Facebook says any activity engaged within the Preventative Health tool will not be utilized outside of the system. So, no ads will be served to you based on this health data, and even more importantly, no health insurance company will have access to this data.
“We don’t show ads based on the information you provide in Preventive Health – that includes things like setting a reminder for a test, marking it as done or searching for a healthcare location,” explains Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer in Facebook’s Public Policy division. “As always, other actions that you take on Facebook could inform the ads you see, for example, liking the Facebook page of a health organization or visiting an external website linked to from Preventive Health.”
This is not the first time Facebook has tried to offer users a broader health intervention. For several years the platform has, somewhat controversially, deployed a suicide prevention algorithm designed to track user posts for language that can flag individuals at a high risk of self-harm. Experts have criticized the policy for its lack of transparency and oversight.
The new Preventative Health tool will undoubtedly face similar levels of scrutiny and concern from privacy advocates. A poll conducted earlier this year found 60 percent of Americans do not trust Facebook with their personal data, so it’s unclear whether people are keen to deliver the platform even more private information.
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