A Facebook patient-data harvesting project has been halted as concerns continue to grow about the social media giant’s ability to protect personal data of its users, CNBC reported on Thursday.
The project appears to be another victim of Facebook’s growing Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal, in which the British research firm allegedly took personal user data of some 87 million from Facebook improperly, per The Hill.
As part of its patient data research project, Facebook had asked numerous large U.S. hospitals to share “anonymized” data about their patients, including illnesses and prescription information, according to CNBC. The social media company wanted to match up the information to assist physicians in determining what patients might need specialized care or treatment, per the network.
“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 CNBC.
The social media giant said, according to CNBC, that it would have blocked personally identifiable information while using a common computer science technique called “hashing” to match individuals who existed in both sets for research purposes only.
A Facebook representative told the website The Verge that the information would have been used generally and not customized to specific patients.
“The project would not attempt to provide health recommendations for specific people,” the representative told The Verge. “Instead the focus would be on producing general insights that would help medical professionals take social connectedness into account as they develop treatment or intervention programs for their patients.”
Facebook had discussions with several health organizations, including Stanford Medical School and American College of Cardiology, about signing the data-sharing agreement, CNBC said.
At least one health policy expert told CNBC that Facebook’s health initiative could create problems if there was a breakdown in the privacy of the information.
“Consumers wouldn’t have assumed their data would be used in this way,” said Aneesh Chopra, the former White House chief technology officer and president of CareJourney, a health software company specializing in patient data.
“If Facebook moves ahead (with its plans), I would be wary of efforts that repurpose user data without explicit consent.”
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