The “Invisible Web” Undermines Health Information Privacy
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The study Privacy Implications of Health Information Seeking on the Web, conducted by Tim Libert at the Annenberg School for Communication (University of Pennsylvania), shows that we have a for more nonchalant attitude regarding health privacy when it comes to personal health information on the Internet. Libert analyzed 80,142 health-related webpages that users might come across while performing online searches for common diseases. For example, if a user uses Google to search for information on HIV, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage on HIV/AIDS (http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/) is one of the top hits, and users will likely click on it. The information provided by the CDC will likely give solid advice based on scientific results, but Libert was more interested in investigating whether visits to the CDC website were being tracked. He found that by visiting the CDC website, information of the visit is relayed to third-party corporate entities such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter. The webpage contains “Share” or “Like” buttons, which is why the URL of the visited webpage (which contains the word “HIV”) is passed on to them – even if the user does not explicitly click on the buttons.