The penetration of US healthcare portals with web trackers like Facebook, Google, and various third-party trackers is more extensive than one would expect. Using an online tool from the University of Hamburg, eBlocker has analyzed numerous health-related Web sites to see what data spying is going on under the hood and without our knowledge.
Not many of us run around wearing a T-Shirt with our personal profile on the on the front listing our name, date of birth, weight and our Facebook profile picture, etc.? You certainly wouldn’t be sharing your healthcare records in public in such a manner. This would be especially true if you had some pre-existing diseases, or challenging health conditions and were seeking a new, lower price, health insurer? No one in their right mind would disclose these things in public.
How can it then be possible that specialized companies, collect much of this data about us and sell it to make money, a lot of money?
Online Web Trackers are Responsible for Data Collection.
Website owners, with these mini-programs, known as trackers, running on their sites, have no idea what evil can happen to their site visitors. Internet platforms, including a vast number of healthcare portals, use these tools use to display tailored, personalized articles or advertising to their users. These ads don’t just deliver pretty pictures of happy folks enjoying their healthy day; they are also reporting what pages visitors are viewing and then sending that information back to their ad network publishers and tracking partners.
These portals often offer handy “sharing” buttons so you can Tweet, post to Facebook or share a story via an email All innocent enough in appearance. What you don’t realize is they are sending information back to their providers including Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Amazon and other less known professional and trusted data brokers. You share something, they know, track it, record it and sell it!
eBlocker conducted an informal study of some major websites for the healthcare industry or healthcare education, and the results were alarming. Some of the top sites on the web for healthcare knowledge, cures, and diseases have these data collecting trackers. In one case we discovered eighty-eight trackers, one of the top healthcare gadgets for monitoring your running and movement had just over sixty, another site focused on baby care had thirty-four.
We Could Go on but….
You’re probably asking why we aren’t naming names, we’ll we’ve done it before, and companies like these culprits came after us for giving up their dirty secrets. So, we suggest you look for yourself. Go to https://privacyscore.org/ and enter one of your favorite healthcare sites and see how they rank. Not all are ranking poorly, but you’ll find plenty are, too many.
But I Am Not Logged In, How Are They Tracking ME?
Now you may say “I didn’t log in to the site, they don’t know it’s me, why should I care.” That would seem a simple answer but it’s not, complex algorithms build a virtual fingerprint of our computers and devices, they associate “anonymous” activities with sites where you have shared your ID like Facebook, Google, and so many more. By using artificial intelligence, data brokers connect your anonymous activity with your ID, they can then develop a highly detailed and intimate personality profile on you. A profile that’s for sale. Just look at this recent article on CNN that shares more details on these “Personal Data for Sale” brokers.
So, What Can You Do About It?
Well, unfortunately, you need to do a lot, but to help you out. We’ve written an article on some handy tips to protect your data. In addition to following some “safe surfing” guidelines, you can also install an eBlocker. Our tool designed to “Switch on Privacy” can help protect you by anonymizing your computer address, allow you surf via virtual private networks (VPN) hiding your computer location and block ads that contain trackers.
These days it’s almost impossible to hide all your web activities, but it sure doesn’t hurt to use some common sense. Your health should only be your business and maybe your doctors, and your privacy should not be for sale.
UPDATE: June 14th, 2018
Web spies collect personal data – Health insurance companies spying on customers
ZURICH- The penetration of Swiss health insurance companies portals through Facebook and Google tracker is tricky, says ex-data collector Christian Bennefeld. With an online tool of the University of Hamburg, he has analyzed numerous Web sites…….
many of the sites exposed took action and took down many of their trackers.
We’re very proud that our research helped reduced tracking and helped protect users in Switzerland. Let’s hope the press in the US will expose the sites tracking American users, and potentially help protect folks in the states.
A few other stories worth sharing about the history of the data brokers.
For reference you may also find solution descriptions of vendors of the tracking code interesting, we found these many of these companies trackers on healthcare sites, it’s really just a small sampling of the over 160 different trackers we discovered on healthcare portals: