Facebook defends NHS website data sharing

Facebook says data safe despite criticism of NHS Choices' use of "Like" button

Stewart Mitchell
24 Nov 2010

Facebook has defended the NHS's decision to link with the social network, claiming the “Like” button function on the NHS Choices site can help spread the word for public service campaigns.

NHS Choices faced criticism yesterday after online identity researchers revealed that the inclusion of the button on its pages meant the NHS was sharing who visited which pages with Facebook.

The revelation from an expert at identity firm Garlik raised serious privacy issues and questions about why the NHS would share such sensitive information.

According to Facebook, the education opportunities provided by its “Like” button outweigh privacy risks.

“By deciding that I 'like' something, that will come up in news feeds and that will drive people to those pages that have a 'Like' button,” a Facebook spokesperson told PC Pro.

“With campaigns that the NHS runs, for things like safe sex, people are opting to raise awareness around illnesses - this adds to that, makes them viral and spreads the word.”

The company admitted that it would receive data about which pages people had visited within the NHS Choices website, but claimed that any risk involved with the data sharing were minimal.

“What the researcher was most concerned about was what we might do with the information, but that is all hypothetical because passing that information [on] would undermine out own privacy policy,” the spokesperson said.

“We cannot do anything with the information. In the same way that the NHS would not share your data, Facebook would not either," the spokesperson said. "The benefits far outweigh the hypothetical risk."

However, the news comes less than a month after Facebook suspended a bevy of developers that had sold user information to data brokers.

The action came after revelations that Facebook apps were inadvertently passing user information to advertising companies.

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