Facebook users who like using social media for a higher purpose, take heart. Or at least a kidney.
The networking giant's founder this week announced that users will now be able to use a tool that indicates whether they are organ donors, and the system could perhaps also be able to help match up donors and recipients.
At the very least, CEO Mark Zuckerberg hopes it will promote awareness of organ donation.
18 Deaths Each Day
"Today, more than 114,000 people in the United States, and millions more around the globe, are waiting for the heart, kidney or liver transplant that will save their lives," wrote Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg in their announcement on Facebook's Newsroom page, titled Friends Saving Lives.
"Many of those people -- an average of 18 people per day -- will die waiting, because there simply aren't enough organ donors to meet the need. Medical experts believe that broader awareness about organ donation could go a long way toward solving this crisis. And we believe that by simply telling people that you're an organ donor, the power of sharing and connection can play an important role."
Users can now note in the new timeline feature that they are donors and share when and why they made the decision. They can also use privacy settings to control who sees that information, which appears in Timeline as well as the newsfeed.
The new feature comes as Facebook is about to launch its initial public offering for the stock market, and the timing is not likely coincidental.
"One of the problems with Facebook is that it kind of has the feel of a trend," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "It's great for sharing the pictures of piano-playing cats but some folks will tire of this. A more practical application, like driving more people to donate organs, create cash mobs [grassroots efforts to help local businesses], or political movements should help move Facebook to being a tool with legs, not just a fad, and it does polish their image by making them appear more socially aware."
What Privacy Issues?
Another benefit of the latest announcement, Enderle added, is that it steers the public conversation away from the bad publicity of privacy issues, such as an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission last year.
Enderle added that sharing medical information takes Facebook into uncharted territory that could have major consequences, especially in people sharing information on third parties that they may not want known to the public.
There could also be legal issues involved: Does declaring yourself an organ donor on Facebook constitute consent for organ harvest if a deceased person was not registered elsewhere?
"In the end Facebook is a powerful tool to drive group behavior but it is also a public tool and I don't think we are all ready for certain parts of our lives to be public," Enderle said.