Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Reblog] The Latest Privacy Risk? Looking Up Medical and Drug Information Online

From the [March ? 2015] Fast company blog

YOUR MOST SENSITIVE WEB SEARCHES (OR JUST YOUR 2 A.M. HYPOCHONDRIA) HAVE BECOME FODDER FOR ADVERTISERS AND DATA BROKERS.

If you have cancer, HIV, diabetes, lupus, depression, heart disease—or you simply look up health-related information online—advertisers are watching you. A new paper on what happens when users search for health information online shows that some of our most sensitive internet searches aren’t as anonymous as we might think.

Marketers care very much about what diseases and conditions people are searching for online. Tim Libert, a doctoral student at the Annenberg School For Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of the paper says that over 90% of the 80,000 health-related pages he looked at on the Internet exposed user information to third parties. These pages included health information from commercial, nonprofit, educational, and government websites. According to Pew, 72 percent of internet users in the US look up health-related information.

PRIVACY LACKING AT WEBMD AND CDC.GOV

Site visit data by third parties isn’t just collected on for-profit sites like WebMD.com; even the Centers for Disease Control warns visitors that third-party content on their own pages includes marketing/analytics products like MotionPoint and Omniture that are used to generate targeted advertising. (Libert’s findings are published in this month’s Communications of the ACM.)

ONE COMPANY, MEDBASE 200, REPORTEDLY USED “PROPRIETARY MODELS” TO GENERATE AND SELL MARKETING LISTS OF RAPE VICTIMS, DOMESTIC ABUSE VICTIMS, AND PATIENTS WITH HUNDREDS OF DIFFERENT ILLNESSES.

STOLEN MEDICAL INFORMATION IS ROUTINELY TRAFFICKED ON CRIMINAL WEBSITES.

WITH LITTLE REGULATION, TIPS TO PROTECT YOURSELF

While studies conducted by Annenberg indicate that slightly more than one in every three Americans knows that private third-parties can track their visits to health-related websites, regulation and oversight is lacking, says Libert. Health privacy is protected by the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), but the law is not meant to oversee business practices by third party commercial entities or data brokers. “Clearly there is a need for discussion with respect to legislation, policies, and oversight to address health privacy in the age of the internet,” says Libert.

To avoid the watchful eye of marketers, Libert recommends users make use of two different tools, Ghostery and Adblock Plus, which can at least partly prevent marketers from obtaining patient health information based on Internet browsing habits.

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March 10, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , ,

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