The Associated Press recently reported that the U.S. government health care website, HealthCare.gov, shares personal information with third party vendors that are embedded in the site. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are among the dozens who potentially have access to your medical history.
The Obama administration argues that the partnership with data firms is to improve the user experience on the site, and they believe the data gathered can help them make the site a more streamlined experience. Third parties are not allowed to use the data to further their own business interests, although there is no word on how the administration will enforce this rule on the vendors who have access to medical information. A representative from Google stated they will not target ads based on a person's medical history.
While it is unclear what the fulls scope of the information these third party firms have access to, it includes whether or not a person is pregnant, is a smoker, their income level, their age, their ip address and more. The government insists that there is no personally identifiable information that is shared with third parties. Both a person's real name and social security number are kept confidential.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation was one of the first to independently confirm these reports. The EFF raised serious concerns about companies like Doubleclick, one of the confirmed partners of HealthCare.gov, using tracking cookies to build a profile of a person based on information gathered across multiple sites. Even if the health care website does keep identifying information secret, they might still be able to connect your medical information to your real identity based on information gathered at other sites, which is all part of the same profile.
While this is a serious privacy concern for some, it also presents a further a further danger of personal medical history being obtained by hackers. Since the data has been spread far and wide to numerous third parties, if any single one of them is hacked it could lead to huge amounts of medical information being leaked or held for ransom. The EFF suggests using software, such as their own Privacy Badger, to prevent third parties from collecting information.
Do you think the government violated people's privacy by sharing this information with third parties? Leave your comments below.