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Why You Shouldn’t Trust Social Networking with Health Information

There’s a lot of hype (and startups) to go along with trying to get you to buy into their “social networking” websites for health issues. Usually these companies have been backed by venture capitalists who expect both a relatively quick and large return on their money.

When a company is beholden not to its founders’ vision or its own mission (no matter how grand that mission or vision might be), but to financial backers who have little interest in the actual goals of the company other than to see it go public or purchased by the highest bidder as quickly as possible, guess who suffers the most? You’re right if you picked you, the user.

Since a company is an entity, not a person, it doesn’t have to be personal in these decisions. It makes them as a disconnected “other,” simply something that is trying to convince you that it is “helping” you by offering your data to others, even when it does so at times without your knowledge or permission.

And that’s what we’re finding now as the details emerge about Facebook’s Beacon initiative. PC World has the story, Facebook’s Beacon More Intrusive Than Previously Thought:

Beacon will report back to Facebook on members’ activities on third-party sites that participate in Beacon even if the users are logged off from Facebook and have declined having their activities broadcast to their Facebook friends. […]

Of particular concern is that users aren’t informed that data on their activities at these sites is flowing back to Facebook, nor given the option to block that information from being transmitted, Berteau said in an interview.

You’re probably wondering, “So what? I don’t put my healthcare data on Facebook.” Good. Don’t. But also realize this is just one company and it’s not alone in trying to squeeze every last potential marketing and advertising dollar from its users. Healthcare companies are doing this too, from Sermo — which shares its physician insights with the same pharmaceutical companies that will then use that data to better tailor their marketing campaigns to those same physicians — to other mainstream consumer health social networking sites, who ostensibly encourage you to fill out your “personal profile” so you can find other users more quickly (but then turn around and sell the aggregated datasets back to employers, marketing companies, and others).

Facebook’s Beacon initiative was the tip of a very big iceberg. We haven’t seen anything yet.

Why You Shouldn’t Trust Social Networking with Health Information

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Why You Shouldn’t Trust Social Networking with Health Information. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Dec 2007)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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