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Facebook Building 8 explored data sharing agreement with hospitals

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The exploratory effort to share medical-related data was led by an interventional cardiologist called Freddy Abnousi, who describes his role on LinkedIn as “leading top-secret projects.” It was under the purview of Regina Dugan, the head of Facebook’s “Building 8” experiment projects group, before she left in October 2017.

Facebook’s pitch, according to two people who heard it and one who is familiar with the project, was to combine what a health system knows about its patients (such as: person has heart disease, is age 50, takes 2 medications and made 3 trips to the hospital this year) with what Facebook knows (such as: user is age 50, married with 3 kids, English isn’t a primary language, actively engages with the community by sending a lot of messages).

The project would then figure out if this combined information could improve patient care, initially with a focus on cardiovascular health. For instance, if Facebook could determine that an elderly patient doesn’t have many nearby close friends or much community support, the health system might decide to send over a nurse to check in after a major surgery.

The people declined to be named as they were asked to sign confidentiality agreements.

Facebook provided a quote from Cathleen Gates, the interim CEO of the American College of Cardiology, explaining the possible benefits of the plan:

“For the first time in history, people are sharing information about themselves online in ways that may help determine how to improve their health. As part of its mission to transform cardiovascular care and improve heart health, the American College of Cardiology has been engaged in discussions with Facebook around the use of anonymized Facebook data, coupled with anonymized ACC data, to further scientific research on the ways social media can aid in the prevention and treatment of heart disease—the #1 cause of death in the world. This partnership is in the very early phases as we work on both sides to ensure privacy, transparency and scientific rigor. No data has been shared between any parties.”

Health systems are notoriously careful about sharing patient health information, in part because of state and federal patient privacy laws that are designed to ensure that people’s sensitive medical information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

To address these privacy laws and concerns, Facebook proposed to obscure personally identifiable information, such as names, in the data being shared by both sides.

However, the company proposed using a common cryptographic technique called hashing to match individuals who were in both data sets. That way, both parties would be able to tell when a specific set of Facebook data matched up with a specific set of patient data.

The issue of patient consent did not come up in the early discussions, one of the people said. Critics have attacked Facebook in the past for doing research on users without their permission. Notably, in 2014, Facebook manipulated hundreds of thousands of people’s news feeds to study whether certain types of content made people happier or sadder. Facebook later apologized for the study.

Health policy experts say that this health initiative would be problematic if Facebook did not think through the privacy implications.

“Consumers wouldn’t have assumed their data would be used in this way,” said Aneesh Chopra, president of a health software company specializing in patient data called CareJourney and the former White House chief technology officer.

“If Facebook moves ahead (with its plans), I would be wary of efforts that repurpose user data without explicit consent.”

When asked about the plans, Facebook provided the following statement:

“The medical industry has long understood that there are general health benefits to having a close-knit circle of family and friends. But deeper research into this link is needed to help medical professionals develop specific treatment and intervention plans that take social connection into account.”

“With this in mind, last year Facebook began discussions with leading medical institutions, including the American College of Cardiology and the Stanford University School of Medicine, to explore whether scientific research using anonymized Facebook data could help the medical community advance our understanding in this area. This work has not progressed past the planning phase, and we have not received, shared, or analyzed anyone’s data.”

“Last month we decided that we should pause these discussions so we can focus on other important work, including doing a better job of protecting people’s data and being clearer with them about how that data is used in our products and services.”

Facebook has taken only tentative steps into the health sector thus far, such as its campaign to promote organ donation through the social network. It also has a growing “Facebook health” team based in New York that is pitching pharmaceutical companies to invest its ample ad budget into Facebook by targeting users who “liked” a health advocacy page, or fits a certain demographic profile.

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UBS earnings: q3 2020

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The logo of Swiss banking giant UBS engraved on the wall is seen on its headquarters on May 8, 2019 in Zurich.

Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — The world’s largest wealth manager, UBS, reported a net income of $2.1 billion for the third quarter on Tuesday, up 99% from the same period last year.

Analysts had forecast reported net income of $1.5 billion for the quarter, according to data from Refinitiv Eikon. Last year, the bank reported net income of $1.049 billion for the same period.

It comes after the Swiss bank and asset manager posted an 11% drop in profits in the second quarter, as the global banking industry felt the full effect of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tuesday results will be UBS’ last under the leadership of CEO Sergio Ermotti, who is due to leave the bank this month. Ralph Hamers will become the new head on November 1.

This is a breaking news story and is being updated.

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Shoppers to visit fewer stores than ever this holiday season: Deloitte

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U.S.-China tensions could split the internet — and data will play a key role

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China’s President Xi Jinping (L) and US President Donald Trump attend a working session on the first day of the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 7, 2017.

Patrick Stollarz | AFP | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Political tensions between the U.S. and China have thrust technology and supply chains into the spotlight and threaten to fracture the internet.

Over the past few years, a growing chorus of voices have predicted a so-called splinternet, the idea that a kind of two-track internet could appear — one led by the U.S. and one by China.

While there is no unified definition of the splinternet, experts told CNBC’s “Beyond the Valley” podcast, that data is going to play a key part in the scale of any kind of fracturing of the internet that we use today.

“I think the data issue and data governance issue is really going to be the critical thing here in terms of how far … we get a split, splinternet, or some fragmentation of cyberspace,” Paul Triolo, head of the geo-technology practice at Eurasia Group said.

To some extent, the split in the global internet can be seen already. For a while, China has effectively blocked many American technology companies such as Google and Facebook from operating there. In China, the apps people use are very different. Instead of Amazon, there is Alibaba-owned Taobao or JD.com. WeChat is the messaging app of choice for over a billion people. And Beijing forces technology companies to censor content deemed politically sensitive.

But this is just one layer. Having to use different apps is manageable. The splintering of the internet could go deeper to areas such as standards — rules that allow some technologies to work together globally — and data transfer. The latter is one of the most important points and data governance is one area of friction between countries around the world.

Data governance differences

The U.S.’s campaign against Chinese technology companies has focused on accusations that they represent a national security threat because of the way they could handle American users’ data.

For example, in his Aug. 6 executive order threatening to ban social media app TikTok, President Donald Trump said the service collects “vast swaths of information” on Americans which could get into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.

TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance. The company has repeatedly denied these claims. But the Trump administration has forced TikTok to come to an agreement which will see Oracle handle American user data to ensure it is not transferred anywhere. That agreement has not been finalized and details are scarce.

This is an example of data localization — where the data of a country’s citizens needs to be stored and processed there. This happens in China too.

But it’s not apparently competing nations and regions where there are frictions over data governance. The European Union, which has moved to regulate data collection and processing practices of companies operating in the bloc, is also at odds with the U.S.

The EU and U.S. had an agreement known as the privacy shield. This is a framework to provide companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a mechanism to comply with data protection requirements when transferring personal data from the European Union and Switzerland to the United States. This agreement is used by thousands of companies. 

But the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court, struck the agreement down earlier this year, saying that it does not adequately protect the privacy of European citizens. The concern in this case focused on some of the laws the U.S. has around surveillance of its citizens. The court was concerned that U.S. law fails to protect people’s personal data from government surveillance in the same way European law does.

‘Club of democracies’

Such fragmentation around data governance principles could lead to factions being created, according to Triolo. He said that he expects the EU and the U.S. to patch up their differences and essentially “get together and … set new standards around data.”

“Any effort to do that will be perceived by China and other countries like Russia as an attempt to exclude counties from a sort of club of democracies that are trying to sort of set the new rule around data,” Triolo said.

“But there does seem to be a lot of momentum behind this because of this fear in many countries that there needs to be at least a common approach to how governments access data … and then the sense that there has to be really high standard around privacy. Then countries that meet that then would be part of the club.”

These new standards could be hard for the likes of Russia and China to meet, according to Triolo.

“And so even though it could be spun as we are setting higher standards and then China needs to meet those, it will be really seen I think as an attempt to really split the internet,” he said.

That could lead to companies operating in the U.S. and Europe under strict data protection standards finding it difficult to operate in China and ultimately pulling out.

“So that process I think is somewhat inevitable over the next several years. This is going to take time, it’s not going to be easy, like switching off a light,” Triolo added.

‘Data neutral epicenters’

Stricter rules around data flows could lead to so-called data neutral epicenters, according to Abishur Prakash, a geopolitical specialist at the Center for Innovating the Future (CIF), a Toronto-based consulting firm.

He referenced the TikTok deal that is still being negotiated. As it stands, a new U.S.-based entity called TikTok Global will be set up. Oracle and Walmart will own 20% of that. ByteDance said it will own the remaining 80%. Oracle however contests that ByteDance will have “no ownership” of TikTok Global. 

ByteDance said it will not transfer its algorithm or technology to Oracle as part of the deal.

Prakash said that could mean at some point, ByteDance’s algorithm has to access the data in the U.S., even though the whole point of the deal is to stop American data from interacting with China.

This could mean that some countries begin to play a middle-man role.

“This then leads to the geopolitical possibility that we are now going to have what I call, data neutral epicenters, that we are going to have certain nations, such as … Singapore or the UAE, that become neutral settings where nations store data, certain types of data, that can then be accessed by other countries and companies,” Prakash told CNBC’s “Beyond the Valley.”

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