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Facebook defends NHS website data sharing


By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 24 Nov 2010 at 10:38

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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User comments

Facebook, like Google, don't get it

Amazing that Facebook chose to talk about using the Like button to turn safe sex viral... like Chlamydia for instance? And what other pages will turn up when someone's computer displays the word sex to other websites?

By SwissMac on 24 Nov 2010

Some clarification needed

So (a Facebook naive writes) does this mean the data is collected only if you click "like" on a page? Or does it collect data on the pages you visit, if you've logged into Facebook and thereby identified yourself? I don't have *too* much of a problem with the NHS knowing what I am looking at, when it comes to medical information, but I have a pretty overwhelmingly vast problem with Face(less)Book knowing.

By Steve_Cassidy on 24 Nov 2010

Re: Some clarification needed

@Steve_Cassidy. You can read more information on Facebook's social plugins here:

By J1532 on 24 Nov 2010

NHS + "Like" button???

What is there to like about the NHS?

"Joe Bloggs likes '6 month waiting list for Hip operations' on Likes"

By everton2004 on 25 Nov 2010

Facebook and Privacy

I'm sorry, are we not being a little naive here? Facebook is a public forum, and leaves a trail wherever you go on it. It may aim to keep private details private, and I would like to think they are very good at that. It is the user who has to think about what they are doing, the settings they make, and the things they say. I am not a fan of Facebook or any other similar sites, but the users should be more careful with what they say or do, or just not use it

By Skrib69 on 25 Nov 2010


Is the workaround to use a separate instance of browser & to logout & close it when finished?

By Dairs on 30 Nov 2010

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