Health Searches May Be Leaked to Third Parties

Third-party tracking generally not present on government or physician-oriented sites

THURSDAY, July 11 (HealthDay News) -- Free health-related websites often have third-party tracking elements and leak search terms to third-party tracking entities, unlike U.S. government or physician-oriented websites, according to a research letter published online July 8 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Marco D. Huesch, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, sampled 20 popular health-related websites, using freely available privacy tools and commercial interception software to examine online privacy after searches of "depression," "herpes," and "cancer."

The author found that all of the sites had at least one third-party element. Thirteen had at least one tracking element, and five of these had tracker elements that also allowed social media button tracking. Seven websites leaked search terms to third-party tracking entities. In contrast, there were no tracking elements on physician-oriented sites linked to professional groups, and none of the U.S. government websites and four of the five physician-oriented sites did not leak search terms to third-party tracking sites.

"Until strong consumer privacy legislation is enacted, individuals should take care how much trust they place in their anonymity and the confidentiality of their information when online," Huesch concludes.

The author disclosed financial ties to Lockheed Martin and Precision Health Economics.

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Physician’s Briefing Staff

Physician’s Briefing Staff

Published on July 11, 2013

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