Facebook privacy upgrade foretells trial tool

Facebook's privacy protection upgrade last week could well be a gateway to more and safer online sharing of patient information--perhaps aiding investigators in such clinical trial activities as subject recruitment.

The privacy upgrade provides 350 million worldwide users with greater control over who can access some of the information on their personal pages. Users posting material to Facebook pages can now use granular controls in the site's "publisher" function that reach down to the level of discrete data elements, according to a ModernHealthcare.com article.

The development may provide a push-back to healthcare IT standards developers who believe it's impossible to build an online system that allows for patient consent, a patient privacy rights advocate says in the article. The new access controls bring the social media phenom more in line with the controls available in personal health records that accommodate patient consent.

But it's still an early step, say experts, given the grater complexity required in protecting patient data compared with the much less sensitive data of Facebook pages. Authentication is one issue, and auditing is another.

Not everyone sees an upside to Facebook's new protections, however. Privacy experts say that some of the good is offset by new default settings that push more information into the public realm, yielding a negative effect on privacy, says Computerworld.

- here's the article
- see the Computerworld item
- here's the Facebook privacy policy update

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