Major Health Websites Are Leaking Your Embarrassing STD Search Results


Don’t do it. Don’t Google “difference between genital warts and razor burn” or “what is gout exactly” + “images.” Don’t do it, because you’ll end up diagnosing yourself with brain cancer or mono — all online hypochondriacs eventually come to that fork in the road — when all you have is an ingrown hair, but also because some leading health sites leak your search terms to third-party trackers. In this post-NSA spying scandal era, nothing is sacred, not even your dubious rash.

From Fast Company:

Online symptom searching may seem benign, but could pose a threat to privacy, says University of Southern California-Los Angeles and Duke business school researcher Marco Huesch. Using interception software, Huesch looked at 20 leading health sites and found that seven of them leaked search terms to third-party trackers, including those listed above. Five also had social media tracking plug-ins.

Third-party trackers glean data that’s anonymous enough to pass muster under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, but that doesn’t placate Huesch. “If you gather such data together with a unique identifier—date of birth, social security number, then you better believe HIPAA comes down on you like a brick building,” Huesch says. “But the loophole here is that they’re gathering data, but maybe it’s grouped with other people with the same zip code. You could imagine that you could re-identify the data with a moment’s effort.”

Well, great! Yet another thing to worry about, on top of that rash.

[Fast Company]

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