Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Healthcare IT Consultant’s take on Facebook’s play for patient data →

Christina Farr for CNBC:

Facebook has asked several major U.S. hospitals to share anonymized data about their patients, such as illnesses and prescription info, for a proposed research project. Facebook was intending to match it up with user data it had collected, and help the hospitals figure out which patients might need special care or treatment.

And:

While the data shared would obscure personally identifiable information, such as the patient’s name, Facebook proposed using a common computer science technique called “hashing” to match individuals who existed in both sets. Facebook says the data would have been used only for research conducted by the medical community.

A supposed use case:

The project would then figure out if this combined information could improve patient care, initially with a focus on cardiovascular health. For instance, if Facebook could determine that an elderly patient doesn’t have many nearby close friends or much community support, the health system might decide to send over a nurse to check in after a major surgery.

Alright, I’m putting my Healthcare IT Consultant hat on here and calling bullshit on multiple levels. To note a couple:

  1. If you’re going to receive anonymized data, hash it, then cross-reference it, you don’t really have anonymized data in the end-run. This implies Facebook was seeking data without patient consent. Otherwise, why anonymize it in the first place? Just do it the right way and ask patients for it. Many healthcare pilots and/or clinical trials deal with patient data, and many are done with proper consent.

  2. You don’t need to cross-reference Facebook to figure out if someone needs a follow up home visit after surgery. These are common for many different types of surgeries, not just for the elderly who live alone. Medical professionals have access to patient history and other means of expertise to make this decision.

As for the whole plan, I think it’s quite ridiculous. Sure, it’s popular to jump all over Facebook right now because of the Cambridge Analytica catastrophe, but I also think this is warranted outcry. There are extremely strict laws, rules, regulations, and policies you must follow when dealing with Protected Health Information (PHI). The most stringent and cited one of all is HIPAA. HIPAA training and compliance is mandatory for all healthcare employees. It’s taken extremely seriously and ingrained into every employee’s mind.

The only large Silicon Valley company that doesn’t scare me in this area is Apple. They have time and again proved that customer privacy is of the utmost importance, and they are the only ones I would trust with using my data in the future. In fact, you may be interested in my first entry on how I think they can improve healthcare overall.

Any healthcare system that partners with Facebook on something like this is now being extremely risky with their brand and reputation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Facebook reportedly delays home speaker amid data crisis →

Sarah Frier for Bloomberg:

Facebook Inc. has decided not to unveil new home products at its major developer conference in May, in part because the public is currently so outraged about the social network’s data-privacy practices, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company’s new hardware products, connected speakers with digital-assistant and video-chat capabilities, are undergoing a deeper review to ensure that they make the right trade-offs regarding user data, the people said. While the hardware wasn’t expected to be available until the fall, the company had hoped to preview the devices at the largest annual gathering of Facebook developers, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing internal plans.

Good. I hope any device Facebook puts out now will be seen as extremely toxic.

Repeat after me: when it comes to Facebook (and Google), you are the product. To chart the comfortability of having these smart speakers in my home from most to least, it would go: HomePod > Echo > Google Home. Facebook’s would never even make the cut.

Firefox extension 'Facebook Container' limits tracking →

From the Mozilla blog:

This extension helps you control more of your web activity from Facebook by isolating your identity into a separate container. This makes it harder for Facebook to track your activity on other websites via third-party cookies.

And…

When you install this extension it will delete your Facebook cookies and log you out of Facebook. The next time you visit Facebook it will open in a new blue-colored browser tab (aka “container tab”). In that tab you can login to Facebook and use it like you normally would. If you click on a non-Facebook link or navigate to a non-Facebook website in the URL bar, these pages will load outside of the container.

Sounds like a great alternative for those who can’t or won’t get rid of their Facebook. This won’t protect you on mobile, though, where I assume most of Facebook’s traffic comes from.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

WhatsApp founder joins the #deletefacebook movement →

Casey Newton for The Verge:

In 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $16 billion, making its co-founders — Jan Koum and Brian Acton — very wealthy men. Koum continues to lead the company, but Acton quit earlier this year to start his own foundation. And he isn’t done merely with WhatsApp — in a post on Twitter today, Acton told his followers to delete Facebook.

“It is time,” Acton wrote, adding the hashtag #deletefacebook. Acton, who is worth $6.5 billion, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. WhatsApp declined to comment.

What Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have done is purely vile. Facebook’s user count has been in decline, anyway, as millennials flee the service for alternatives. 1 If you ever were in doubt as to Facebook’s privacy policies, look at their track record and let this be the final nail in the coffin. If only there would be a swift demise to both companies. #deletefacebook


  1. Though most are on Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Don’t use Facebook’s new ‘Protect’ feature →

Sarah Perez for TechCrunch:

Onavo Protect, the VPN client from the data-security app maker acquired by Facebook back in 2013, has now popped up in the Facebook iOS app itself, under the banner “Protect” in the navigation menu. Clicking through on “Protect” will redirect Facebook users to the “Onavo Protect – VPN Security” app’s listing on the App Store.

And:

Marketing Onavo within Facebook itself could lead to a boost in users for the VPN app, which promises to warn users of malicious websites and keep information secure – like bank account and credit card numbers – as you browse. But Facebook didn’t buy Onavo for its security protections.

Instead, Onavo’s VPN allow Facebook to monitor user activity across apps, giving Facebook a big advantage in terms of spotting new trends across the larger mobile ecosystem. For example, Facebook gets an early heads up about apps that are becoming breakout hits; it can tell which are seeing slowing user growth; it sees which apps’ new features appear to be resonating with their users, and much more.

Trojan horse, much?

Tons of people will enable this without question. Don’t be one of those people. If you’re looking for a good VPN service, check out Private Internet Access. I use it from time to time, and they have a good track record when it comes to privacy.