Sorry Facebook, I don’t trust ​you with my health information

KEY POINT: According to Facebook a lot of people join health groups on the social site to share experiences and ask questions. Facebook announced Tuesday that it wants to create a new type of community: health support groups in which people can even ask questions anonymously. Facebook is doing this to get more online digital dollars, but DTC marketers should be careful.

Mark Zuckerberg opened Facebook’s conference with a joke around Facebook’s privacy issues. It didn’t go well and was met with dead silence. According to Mashable “yep, soak that in. If you find the assertion that Facebook is a privacy company now pretty rich, you are certainly not alone”.

Put aside, for one moment, the obvious cringey-ness of watching Mark Zuckerberg, human person, try to crack a joke about, say, the fact that his company is about to pay billions in fines for mishandling user data, to give just one example. Instead, let us try to understand. See, what Mark is doing here is employing a little comedic technique called an understatement. Do you get it? Facebook’s reputation on privacy — from the amount of data it soaks up on its users to sell us things, to the lack of care with which it treats our private information — is so much worse than not “the strongest.” So it’s a joke!!!

Facebook is facing billions of dollars in fines because of privacy issues. Zuckerberg could care less. You see users and advertisers love the site and really don’t care that Facebook is using their personal information to make money and sway elections.

When I came down with a case of Shingles, I joined a private group on Facebook to learn more. I did learn that the old vaccine was only 50% effective and that the new vaccine is hard to get because of a nationwide shortage. But there was also some lousy information like the premise that Shingles is caused by stress, it isn’t, as well as people asking others to diagnose their condition and recommend treatments. A lot of posts had terrible information.

I was smart enough to be able to weed out the bad information but I’m sure a lot of people are not.

What really scares me though is the way in which Facebook is going to use my private information to court advertisers. People tend to be very guarded about their health problems and I don’t believe they want it to be sold to advertisers. Let’s also note that Facebook’s past record on transparency and privacy has failed.

There are opportunities, however. GSK, the maker of the Shingles vaccine, could learn a lot about patients and how to reach them. There is low awareness that the old vaccine is only 50% effective and what causes Shingles. There also needs to be a message that Shingles patients need to start antiviral medication with 24 hours of the first outbreak to be effective and that Shingles is not just a health condition for people over 60.

My advice to clients is to stay away from Facebook and take a “wait and see” approach. Let’s see if Facebook can earn the trust of online health seekers amd if Zuckerberg can finlly grow up and act like a responsioble business person.