This week, it was revealed that Facebook is facing another federal class action lawsuit for allegedly gathering a patient’s sensitive medical data without her consent. The patient says that her info was harvested through the so-called Meta Pixel feature embedded in her health care provider’s online patient portal.
According to the suit, this patient data is used “for profit” because the company allows pharmaceutical companies to use it to provide targeted advertising. Some experts believe this violates patient anonymity clauses in HIPAA, but yet it remains a widespread practice in health care. That has led some privacy advocates to conclude that a much broader approach needs to be taken to shore up privacy protections on these websites.
“In my experience, it is common for healthcare organizations to install or allow third-party applications to collect or analyze users’ data on their internet-facing websites and patient portals through use of tracking tools,” privacy attorney David Holtzman said. “Perhaps what we are learning now is that there was a general failure to employ privacy by design that might have brought to light an understanding of how sensitive or personally identifiable information collected for healthcare treatment was used or disclosed.”
With this lawsuit and another one like it in Maryland, Facebook could become the first test case to see if this kind of data collection is legal. Here’s hoping that stronger privacy protections for our health care info wins out.
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