Why That Pain Reliever Ad Is Following You Around The Web
A new study of 20 health-related sites demonstrated that many contain tracking elements and/or leak search terms to third-party companies, providing data that "could [help] build up a very powerful document with all of your medical conditions."
More proof that the Internet knows all your business: A study of 20 popular health-related sites revealed that all of them contain at least one method to track individual user activity, and some share that activity with third-party advertising firms, which then use it to send targeted ads. University of Southern California professor and study author Marco D. Huesch used freely-available Web debug tools to identify site behavior. The study was published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
What’s the Big Idea?
While Huesch understands the purpose of targeted advertising, he believes the use of health-related data for that purpose presents several potentially dangerous issues, not the least of which is the creating of user profiles containing “all of your medical conditions [and] the drugs you’re taking” along with other personal information. Worse, there’s the potential for what he calls “virtual redlining” in which healthy people receive “better” ads than sick people. Government-imposed privacy regulations that are now a common part of health care in the US exempt online targeted advertising, and the practice is growing despite criticism from privacy advocates.