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.The proposal never went past the planning phases and has been put on pause after the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal raised public concerns over how Facebook and others collect and use detailed information about Facebook users.
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.The project could have raised new concerns about the massive amount of data Facebook collects about its users, and how this data can be used in ways users never expected.
All of this leads back to the question whether Facebook is a venal company that warrants especially harsh treatment from regulators. Facebook now has three strikes against it: Beacon, the privacy modifications it made in 2009 to force private user information public, and now the Kogan/Cambridge Analytica revelation. Facebook can't claim to be clueless about how this happened. The FTC consent decree put Facebook on notice. All of Facebook's actions were calculated and deliberate, integral to the company's business model, and at odds with the company's claims about privacy and its corporate values. So many of the signs of venality are present.