This month it has been discovered that popular health websites are sharing people’s sensitive data with big ad targeting giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook. Although this is not the first time big data companies have been caught misusing consumer data, this time it has even more cause for concern. People are calling this discovery very alarming, as the types of data being shared are of a sensitive nature.
It was found that data such as medical symptoms, diagnoses, drug use and menstrual and fertility information have all been shared with big data firms. It completely goes against everything medical practitioners stand for, as when they undertake the process of becoming a physician or doctor, they swear to the Hippocratic oath. This oath is to keep everything to do with their patients’ lives or conditions private and unspoken.
But thanks to the arrival of the internet, millions of people now turn to the web each day to try to solve their medical issues. Even if they think there is privacy between them and these web services, the reality is the exact opposite. These companies are exploiting people online so that they can sell sensitive data to big companies that then use this data to target ads at people online.
Even supposedly reputable companies and charities like the British Heart Foundation, Bupa and Healthline were sharing data with big software giants. This activity is in clear breach of EU regulation and the law in some countries, and could result in some hefty penalties if the companies are found to be actively using this data.
The EU General Data Protection Regulation passed in May 2018 makes it illegal for companies to share sensitive data such as health information and sexual orientation, without the explicit consent from the user. In this case, none of the websites asked people if their data could be shared.