Would You Track Your Health on Facebook?

January 19, 2009

I was curious to see if I was the only one crazy enough to share my health data publicly, so last week I posted two questions as my Facebook status. “Would you track your health on Facebook (weight, calories, sleep, exercise) for all your friends to see?”, followed by “What if it was completely private for only you to see?”

The answers I got surprised me. I didn’t expect 26 people to reply. I didn’t expect such detailed opinions. I didn’t expect the answer to be a resounding, 70% yes.

Facebook poll 1.png

Let me clarify that these are not QS enthusiasts. I asked all my Facebook friends because I think they represent the general Facebook population – only two dedicated self-trackers replied. It got even more interesting when I broke down the responses down by gender and privacy options.

facebook poll 2.png

Now I need to qualify this a bit. I know 26 responses doesn’t represent a statistically significant sample size by any means. Also, there was an unequal number of women (16) and men (10). Still, it’s an interesting discussion starter. It makes me want to know if there really is a gender difference. Are women more reluctant to share tracking information publicly? And more broadly, is there a gender bias in the act of tracking itself? Do women track themselves more or less than men do? Do they track different things?

Another surprise was the range and passion of replies, from “no way!’ to “I would love that!”, and everywhere in between. Here are some of the comments I found most interesting, in no particular order.

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“I would keep stuff like basic fitness info on something like facebook.  I wouldn’t trust medical info here.”

“Public daily measurement is an interesting way to keep you on your diet/exercise plan/meditation schedule, but most people probably want to share the social/personal significance of the data rather than the data itself. e.g. “Mike lost 2 lbs this week! Now he’s 10% of the way to his goal!” rather than daily weight variation.”

“don’t mind anyone seeing this info …it’s just the job of collecting it”

“On one hand, I don’t think my “friends” care what I weigh, etc., though I don’t mind sharing this info with them. In fact, I’d expect some might find this level of personal disclosure somewhat creepy and odd. Developing flexible privacy and data-sharing controls for both the information sharer and recipient will be important.

On the other hand, I’d like to make this info available to researchers and those developing applications for new forms of health monitoring systems. Facebook seems to have emerged as the current leading platform for social networking. It provides a strong platform for application developers to build tools for new types of interaction and collaboration. So, I hope that my participation on the cutting edge of health information monitoring will lead to beneficial new forms of medical practice.

I think social networking enables a new form of participatory science, which is more than passive observation. It allows for real-time feedback, social reinforcement for participants from trusted sources, and dynamically configurable experiments, which can lead to real-world outcomes.”

“I don’t think I would be comfortable doing this. I don’t trust that anything you put on facebook is completely private. I do like the idea though.”

“For what reason exactly? In the interest of being proactive about my health? Would there be a benefit to allowing people to see this info?”

“the caloric intake measure is hard for me…I’m more of a guestimator with food.  I’m not sure I’d like everyone to see my weight on here either.  Perhaps good motivation, but still.   I’d rather have a smaller community know about that (I’m not really a Biggest Loser reality show kind of person).”

“yes — would love to be able to add categories of things to track
and add and remove permissions easily — would rather share a report
than the data”


“to me it’s a simple layer of accountability, like going to the gym with a buddy versus going by yourself. Visibility=incentive. Imagine how many pushups I would do if I did…like at Cross Country practice – team pushing me, not just me+1, 2

here is where economies of scale, intertwining of cyborg lifestyle and quantity+content of connections have perfect opp to mashup”

“Only if I could lie.”

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What did I learn from this exercise? The biggest issues raised were privacy and meaning. People wanted to decide WHO got to see which parts of their data. They also wanted to explore WHY they should track themselves and what benefits they would derive. Two people questioned the logistics of how to track. Almost half of the respondents expressed a general mistrust of Facebook in terms of privacy controls.

What else did I learn? Well, maybe I’m not so crazy after all. 🙂

Now it’s time to open this up for the QS community to weigh in… Would YOU track your health on Facebook? Post your comments below.

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