Facebook Inc. is working on a top-secret project that would offer “support communities” for its users to connect and discuss illnesses, according to a Reuters report on Friday. The social network also has a few employees working on preventative care apps that could help people make better lifestyle choices, the report said.
Silicon Valley’s tech giants are slowly realizing that wellness services could bring healthy profits and serious user engagement. Facebook’s plans follow Apple Inc.’s inclusion of health software in its latest iPhone, as well as a number of initiatives at Google Inc.
The report also comes one day after Facebook apologized to users for a study where it manipulated users’ news feeds to see whether the changes impacted their moods and what they posted. The social network could face legal action over the experiments, in the U.S. and abroad.
To deal with the potential backlash following its sometimes tenuous history with privacy issues, Facebook might release its first health-related app “under a different name,” Reuters said, citing three anonymous sources with information about the company’s plans. The report said Facebook had done research on Instagram, which showed that a great deal of its users don't even know that it owns the popular image-sharing network.
Facebook’s health-related communities would allow users affected by various illnesses to engage with each other, and offer support and advice. The company has held meetings with medical “experts and entrepreneurs,” Reuters said. Facebook is also creating a new research and development team devoted to testing out new health apps for smartphones.
Facebook is reportedly still brainstorming its plans, but management has realized that health and wellness could be a way to significantly increase how often users visit the site as well as improve their opinions of the social network. Facebook’s 2012 “organ-donor status initiative” was a great success, and the company learned that a number of users with chronic illnesses would search the site for advice.