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Congresswoman Grace Meng

Representing the 6th District of New York

Meng Demands FTC Investigate Facebook’s Collection of Personal Health Data

Feb 26, 2019
Press Release
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Joseph Simons urging his agency to launch an investigation into Facebook’s collection of personal health data from smartphone users. The letter comes in response to an article in the Wall Street Journal “You Give Apps Sensitive Personal Information. Then They Tell Facebook,” a story that found Facebook has been collecting millions of users’ most sensitive health data—without the user’s consent, and even if the user has no connection to Facebook.
 
“I’m outraged over Facebook’s enormous data collection practices that includes people’s most sensitive and intimate health information,” said Meng. “Today, there are millions of smartphone apps that allow people to save incredibly personal data such as their ovulation and menstrual cycles, and heart rate - but this information is automatically sent to Facebook and unknowingly to the user. No one has given consent to Facebook to use such data. This is an egregious violation of privacy, and I demand the FTC open an investigation into Facebook’s data collection practices immediately, and for Facebook to stop these collections.”
 
A copy of Meng’s correspondence can be viewed here and the text of the letter is below.
 
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The Honorable Joseph J. Simons
Chairman
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
 
Dear Chairman Simons:
 
I write to request that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launch an investigation into Facebook Inc.’s collection of personal health information from smartphone users. A recent investigation by the Wall Street Journal found that Facebook has been collecting information on millions of users’ most sensitive health data – unbeknownst to those users and even if said users have no connection to Facebook. This invasive practice must be stopped immediately.
 
A recent analysis by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ)[1] found that Facebook installed analytics software inside thousands of apps, including apps that track users’ ovulation, menstrual cycles and their blood pressures. As soon as the user opens and logs their sensitive health data, the pre-installed software promptly sends the data to Facebook by creating a “custom app event.” For instance, in the WSJ’s testing, the Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor and Flo Health Inc.’s Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, the latter which claims 25 million active users, sent heart rate data and ovulation and menstrual tracking data to Facebook, respectively. That data would then be available to Facebook users and developers, leading to the creation of targeted ads towards the users of those apps. The companies running the applications have no ability to remove or disable the software Facebook had installed and none of the apps gave users the option to stop their personal information from being sent to Facebook. Collection of such data is an egregious violation of privacy.
 
Facebook did not obtain clear consent from users to accumulate personal health data that users provided to the app. The FTC must investigate this intrusive and invasive practice, and put an end to it immediately. Smartphone users must be protected from this encroachment into their personal lives; they must know their personal information is safe. I look forward to working with you on this matter.
 
Sincerely,
 
Grace Meng
Member of Congress
 

[1] Schechener, S. and Secada, M.  (2019). You Give Apps Sensitive Personal Information.Then They Tell Facebook. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/you-give-apps-sensitive-personal-information-then-they-tell-facebook-11550851636?mod=article_inline