01 April 2015

Lack of privacy for online medical searches

From Vice's Motherboard:
That means when you search for “cold sores,” for instance, and click the highly ranked “Cold Sores Topic Overview WebMD” link, the website is passing your request for information about the disease along to one or more (and often many, many more) other corporations...

Thus, Libert has discovered that the vast majority of health sites, from the for-profit WebMD.com to the government-run CDC.gov, are loaded with tracking elements that are sending records of your health inquiries to the likes of web giants like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest, and data brokers like Experian and Acxiom.

From there, it becomes relatively easy for the companies receiving the requests, many of which are collecting other kinds of data (in cookies, say) about your browsing as well, to identify you and your illness...

WebMD, for instance, is the 106th most-visited site in the US, according to Alexa, and figures prominently in search results for most commonly searched diseases. It sends third party requests to a whopping 34 separate domains, including the data brokers Experian and Acxiom.“WebMD is basically calling up everybody in town and telling them that’s what you’re looking at..."

With nonprofit sites like the CDC and the Mayo Clinic, again, it’s not due to any insidious intent; it’s simply because developers are installing “free” tools like Google Analytics and social media “share” buttons on their sites, and most users have no idea that means information about their searches is being shared with third parties. “The problem is that using these 'free' third-party tools is really easy for web developers. What developers don’t consider is, why are these tools free?
More at the link.   Not an April Fool's joke.


  1. So how soon before this information is used against us? Let's say I search for "tingling in my fingers". A year later, I buy life insurance and report that I have no known medical conditions. I die a year later from a heart attack, and the insurance company doesn't pay because it accuses me of fraud.

    Or worse yet, an aggregator collects this information and releases it to employers with background checks.

    1. all your worst fears are already happening. recruiting companies, hr departments of large companies, banks/mortgage lenders and insurers buy access to your data from facebook or acxiom or others. they know who you are, where you live, where you shop, how much you drink, who you associate with and everything you look at on the internet. yes your bank manager knows you looked up Viagra, the symptoms of alcoholism, and what kind of porn you like
      i know this because i used to work for one of the bigger data aggregation companies


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