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Why Facebook’s smartwatch is a problem

It's no secret that Facebook's business model runs on user data. The more features they add, the more information they can gather about your online behavior, shopping habits, and social activities. Now the company has its eyes set on a new target — health data. And the new Facebook smartwatch seems to be a tool for collecting it.

Paul Black

Paul Black

Mar 03, 2021 · 3 min read

Why Facebook’s smartwatch is a problem

What is the Facebook smartwatch?

Facebook's smartwatch is a piece of wearable tech, set to be introduced sometime in 2022. The watch supports thousands of apps, including health and fitness software, and can be synched to different accounts and devices.

Facebook's watch will function similarly to your phone: it will have a mobile internet connection and will initially use Android OS until Facebook develops its own operating system.

Health data: the new frontier

Your data is incredibly valuable to companies like Facebook. The more they know about you, the more effectively they can advertise to you — and the more money they can make from those adverts. There's a real financial incentive for tech giants to gather your personal information, and what is more personal than data about your physical health?

Health data could be a new goldmine for tech companies. There are two significant ways it can add value to them:

  • Improved ad targeting. If companies like Facebook can track your unique health conditions, they can advertise medication and treatments tailored to your specific needs. On a subtler level, they could even use heart rate, sleep data, and other information to guess your mood on any given day, and advertise accordingly.
  • Mood-sensitive algorithms. Social media giants use complex algorithms to decide what appears on your newsfeed. Right now, these systems rely on things like your previous activity, demographic data, and personal interests to determine what you see. But imagine if they could monitor your pulse in real-time as different news articles and social posts appeared on your screen. For Facebook, the possibilties would be endless.

Of course, this raises the question: how could Facebook gather this information in the first place? The answer could be their new smartwatch.

Why you should be worried about Facebook's smartwatch

Not much is currently known about this gadget, but we can already anticipate the possible threats. Considering Facebook's poor privacy record, it's not looking too promising.

Like most smartwatches, this device will presumably track your health data, giving Facebook access to a new stream of deeply personal user information. Most people who currently use smartwatches allow them to log data on their health, sleep patterns, heart rate, or even medication. With this information, Facebook can improve their targeted ads, and even alter their algorithms to respond to your emotional, psychophysiological state.

Then there's the increased threat of cybercrime. Facebook has experienced massive data leaks in the past, so you can’t be sure where else your health details may end up.

Facebook data-sharing agreements with hospitals

This is not Facebook's first foray into the health sector. In 2018, it spoke to hospitals about sharing medical data that could be matched with user profiles. The plan was to convince healthcare organizations to share anonymous medical information and match it with Facebook accounts. The data included health issues and age, but no personal identifying info, such as names.

The project aimed to give medical professionals insights to consider patients' social profiles when developing treatments and intervention programs. However, Facebook reportedly paused the program.

What happens next?

Not all bio-tech is inherently bad, but the danger lies in sleepwalking into a world in which we give up deeply personal data without due consideration. Taking control of our data and understanding how it's used is now more imporant than ever.

We're now moving towards a world of biological data-harvesting and wearable tech. It's a world in which the internal processes of our bodies could be monetized by tech giants, and the Facebook smartwatch is the latest step in that journey.