E&C Demands Facebook Briefing on Exposure of Users’ Personal Health Information

February 20, 2019 by TWN Staff
An Illustration of Facebook logo, on May 9, 2016. Facebook won a court case in China against Zhongshan Pearl River Drink Factory for using the name face book. (Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Sipa USA)

On Tuesday, Energy and Commerce Committee leaders wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding a briefing from the company following a consumer complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission that personal health information of certain Facebook users who were participating in “closed” groups may have been exposed. According to the complaint, users of these groups shared deeply personal health information, such as information about substance use disorders, about the challenges of parenting transgender children, HIV status and past history of sexual assault. This comes in the wake of a recent scandal whereby a bug in the company’s photo software allowed authorized programmers to access photos that users had uploaded but not shared publicly.

The request was made to Zuckerberg by Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

“Despite the indications that the groups were private and anonymous, people and companies who should not have been admitted to these groups gained access to them and to lists of group members,” Pallone and Schakowsky wrote.  “People used the member lists and other information from these groups to target and harass members of the groups.  Insurance companies may have used information from these private groups to make decisions about insurance offerings for group members.”

According to the consumer complaint, Facebook’s algorithms used personal information it collected from Facebook users to suggest and even solicit members of online support groups for a variety of medical conditions.

“This consumer complaint raises a number of concerns about Facebook’s privacy policies and practices,” the Committee leaders continued.  “Facebook’s systems lack transparency as to how they are able to gather personal information and synthesize that information into suggestions of relevant medical condition support groups.  Labeling these groups as closed or anonymous potentially misled Facebook users into joining these groups and revealing more personal information than they otherwise would have.  And Facebook may have failed to properly notify group members that their personal health information may have been accessed by health insurance companies and online bullies, among others.”

The Committee leaders requested a briefing from Facebook by March 1, 2019. Read the full letter, here.

Congress

House Democrats Release Updated Calendar for Pandemic-Plagued Session
Congress
House Democrats Release Updated Calendar for Pandemic-Plagued Session
May 29, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Friday released the updated plan for conducting congressional business into the summer. The plan and calendar emailed members states that the focus for June will be on having the House committees hold hearings and mark up and report... Read More

Senators Discuss Solutions to the COVID-19 Long-Term Care Issue
Health
Senators Discuss Solutions to the COVID-19 Long-Term Care Issue
May 29, 2020
by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON - Long-term care is a topic that hits close to home for many. Nursing homes and facilities providing care for people 65 and older are often crowded and understaffed, and care for seniors is even more complicated in the COVID-19 era. More than a third... Read More

House Overwhelmingly Endorses Greater Flexibility for Small Business Aid Program
Congress
House Overwhelmingly Endorses Greater Flexibility for Small Business Aid Program
May 28, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - In an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, the House on Thursday passed legislation providing struggling small businesses with greater flexibility in using coronavirus relief loans. The bill, which amends the Paycheck Protection Program enacted in March, passed by a vote of 417-1. Introduced by Reps. Dean... Read More

Congress Seeks to Help Minorities Hit Hardest by Coronavirus
Health
Congress Seeks to Help Minorities Hit Hardest by Coronavirus
May 28, 2020
by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON - Medical and social welfare witnesses told a congressional committee Wednesday that ethnic minorities need an increased effort to protect them from the devastation of coronavirus. They are dying or losing their jobs in some locations at almost twice the rate of the white population,... Read More

Bipartisan Opposition Leaves Surveillance Bill in Doubt
Congress
Bipartisan Opposition Leaves Surveillance Bill in Doubt

WASHINGTON (AP) — Legislation extending surveillance authorities the FBI sees as vital in fighting terrorism was thrown into doubt as President Donald Trump threatened a veto and Republican leaders and top liberal Democrats said they would oppose it. House Democratic leaders abruptly adjourned without considering the... Read More

Longtime Texas Congressman Sam Johnson, POW in Vietnam, Dies at Age 89
Congress
Longtime Texas Congressman Sam Johnson, POW in Vietnam, Dies at Age 89

Retired Texas congressman Sam Johnson, a conservative stalwart whose service to country spanned seven years as a prisoner of war and a long stint in the U.S. House, died Wednesday in Plano of natural causes. He was 89. The Plano Republican packed multiple careers into a... Read More

Straight From The Well
scroll top