Adding to its capacity to help its users - and be of broader societal benefit, as opposed to fueling division - Facebook has this week launched a new 'Preventive Health' tool, an optional process within its main app which can prompt users to undergo regular health check-ups, based on their age and gender information.
As explained by Facebook:
"Tens of millions of people in the US are missing out on recommended preventive care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventive measures have the potential to detect disease early when it’s most treatable and, in some cases, prevent it from developing. Yet factors such as awareness, access and cost create barriers to testing for many people."
To address this, the new Preventive Health tool, which is now available within Facebook's extended apps, will take account of your personal information and suggest that you undertake check-ups relative to your age.
If you do choose to undergo a test, Facebook will be able to highlight where you can go to do so:
The map will highlight Federally Qualified Health Centers, in order to ensure people can find affordable options, even if they don't have insurance. Once you find the right provider for you, you can then make a booking, which Facebook will also record within the Preventive Health app:
It will then also send you a prompt within your Facebook notifications on the day of your appointment:
Facebook says that the initial focus of the Preventive Health app will be on heart disease and cancer, along with the flu, with reminders of flu shots to help maximize awareness.
And once you've undertaken a test, or been given a flu shot, you can mark it as done within the app, ensuring that you stay up to date on relevant measures.
It's a good initiative from Facebook, which expands on its capacity to help raise awareness for health concerns, using its unmatched scale to prompt increased user action. And as an example of how effective this can be, back in April, Facebook reported that, since 2017, its blood donation prompts had lead to more than 35 million people signing up to become blood donors across the world.
But of course, there are also data privacy concerns. Do you really want Facebook, the app at the center of ongoing privacy issues, to have a record of your health check-ups and such?
For one, the health check-up tool doesn't store any information about your results, it merely prompts you with reminders for relevant check-ups, so it's not a record of your health as such.
Facebook has also gone to expanded effort to underline the fact that any information shared within the tool will not be used for ad targeting, and that user privacy is at the heart of the initiative:
"Your activity within Preventive Health will not be posted publicly or shared with others. Information you provide is securely stored and access is restricted to a group of people at Facebook who work on the product or maintain our systems. We don’t share personal information about your activity in Preventive Health with third parties, such as health organizations or insurance companies, so it can’t be used for purposes like insurance eligibility."
As noted, it's a good initiative, and it could have major implications, and help many more people stay on top of potential health concerns. The tool is optional, so you would expect that only a fraction of Facebook's user base will use it. But if it can help raise awareness of such concerns, and get more people booking in to get checked, then it's a positive.
You can learn more about Facebook's Preventive Health tool here.