When you go online to certain websites, your data is tracked on behalf of the company who owns the site. It is why Target can anticipate when you are low on shampoo, or why Google runs ads down the side of the screen for products you usually buy, or even why your grocery store knows which brand of deli meat you like. But what happens when the data being tracked relates to your health, or to sensitive matters that you want to keep private?

WebMD and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) both utilize software that will send data to third parties upon request. In other words, “when you search for ‘cold sores,’ for instance, and click the highly ranked ‘Cold Sores Topic Overview WebMD’ link, the website is passing your request for information about the disease along to one or more (and often many, many more) other corporations.”

Why this is a problem

Because medical websites do NOT offer medical “advice,” you are not protected by the doctor/patient confidentiality clause. Medical sites like the CDC, the Mayo Clinic and WebMD are for informational purposes only, and they offer you opportunities to share interesting information via social media right on the site. That information would have to be tracked in order to be shared, so they are telling you (indirectly, of course) that your data is being collected. While you may be surprised to learn that these websites are tracking your health, legal action against them may ultimately prove difficult. Medical websites can offer a lot of interesting and free information – but if you think you are sick, avoid the urge to “self-diagnose” if you want to keep that information to yourself, and see a doctor in person. Your health should be your business and your business alone.

For more information about your right to privacy, or to learn more about the services we offer, please contact Paulson & Nace, PLLC to speak with skilled Washington, D.C. personal injury lawyer and Certified US Information Privacy Professional Jonathan Nace.