HealthCare.gov sending personal data to Twitter, Yahoo and Google

Privacy advocates warn the data could be misused

Information entered into the US government's health insurance website is being passed to companies such as Twitter, Yahoo and Google, according to a report from the Associated Press.

The data includes zip codes, income levels and information about whether people smoke or are pregnant, which users share on HealthCare.gov to get an estimate on the cost of an insurance plan.

The AP's findings were confirmed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which conducted its own tests on Tuesday, said Cooper Quintin, an EFF staff technologist, in a phone interview.

The EFF found that personal health information was sent to 14 third-party domains whose tracking programs are embedded in HealthCare.gov. The domains include those for social media and web analytics companies.

The health data is transmitted in two ways. All 14 domains receive the health data in a referrer, Quintin said. A referrer is information sent from a Web browser that lets another website know what site a person last visited.

In some other cases, the data is embedded in a request string that is sent to the tracking programs, Quintin said. For instance, Google's DoubleClick advertising service receives the data in that way, according to a blog post he wrote.

The worry is that those 14 third-party domains could collect the information and use it to identify users across the Internet for purposes such as targeted advertisements.

"This information, I would say, would be gold for any online advertising company," Quintin said.

There is no evidence that the companies that have trackers are misusing the information, however, and it's unclear if the data is being transmitted intentionally or as the result of an oversight by developers.

Quintin said trackers such as Twitter and YouTube may be there for HealthCare.gov's developers, or to make it easier for people to share content about health care on social media sites.

"I'd say most of these are probably on here just to make life easier for the web developers working on this," Quintin said. "But I think there are better ways to do all of these things which would still retain people's privacy."

The site's developers could make their own sharing button that doesn't link directly to Twitter, or run their own analytics software, Quintin said.

Officials with HealthCare.gov could not be immediately reached Tuesday evening.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentsecurityElectronic Frontier FoundationGovernment use of IT

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?