Facebook Closed Group Features Scrutinized For Alleged Health Data Breach

Facebook's closed group feature scrutinized

Facebook is once again under fire for allegedly failing to protect the health data provided by users in ‘closed’ groups. A legislative inquiry is in place to uncover answers from the tech giant.

A letter was sent on Tuesday from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to Facebook CEO and co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, to request for a closed-door staff meeting by March to discuss the latest privacy concerns that the social network is facing.

Federal Trade Commission filed a 43-page complaint on Monday alleging the social media company of luring users into sharing their personal health information through ‘closed’ groups.

A closed group on Facebook is exclusive to a particular group of people that were approved by the administrator. The complaint alleges that Facebook misleads users about how private and anonymous the health data they share is. It also noted that third parties have been able to exploit certain loopholes, enabling them to access members’ posts and comments.

Facebook, through its spokesperson, denied the allegations and pushed back against the idea that the tech company was misleading users about their closed group features.

“Facebook is not an anonymous platform; real-name identity is at the center of the experience and always has been. It’s intentionally clear to people that when they join any group on Facebook, other members of that group can see that they are a part of that community, and can see the posts they choose to share with that community,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

“There is value in being able to know who you’re having a conversation within a group, and we look forward to briefing the committee about how these products work,”┬áthe spokesperson added.

In July last year, a revelation was circulating that members of a private group for breast cancer gene carriers have discovered a Chrome extension that allowed marketers to find useful information including the medical history of members in closed and private groups.

Facebook immediately fixed and closed this loophole, but critics are still adamant about the security and privacy that closed groups offer. Security researcher, Fred Trotter, and health care lawyer, David Harlow, argued in the complaint that it’s possible to set up a fake and troll account that would allow anyone to download the group’s member list and see the contents being shared inside the supposed closed group.

This, according to Trotter and Harlow, is a violation of federal law and an agreement Facebook had with the FTC to get consent from users before sharing their data with third parties.

“The consumer complaint raises some concerns about Facebook’s privacy policies and practices,” lawmakers said in the letter to Zuckerberg. They added that Facebook might have failed to inform users that their health data might have been exposed to insurance companies, online bullies, and advertisers.

Facebook has been in a series of public and legislative scrutiny in recent years for security and privacy issues. Only recently, privacy concerns were raised in Facebooks system as they unfolded the new ‘unsend’ feature where the company said that all unsent messages will still be kept in their system for an undisclosed amount of time.

The FTC, which has been investigating Facebook’s privacy practices, is reportedly negotiating a record-setting fine against the social network.  /apr

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