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It’s 2015—when we feel sick, fear disease, or have questions about our health, we turn first to the internet. According to the Pew Internet Project, 72 percent of US internet users look up health-related information online.
But an astonishing number of the pages we visit to learn about private health concerns—confidentially, we assume—are tracking our queries, sending the sensitive data to third party corporations, even shipping the information directly to the same brokers who monitor our credit scores.
He found the results startling: a full 91 percent of the pages made what are known as third-party requests to outside companies. That means 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.
“WebMD is basically calling up everybody in town and telling them that’s what you’re looking at”
Here’s what’s happening in a bit greater detail: Let’s say you make a search for “herpes.” Plugging that query into a search engine will return a list of results. Chances are, whatever site you choose to click on next will send information not just to the server of the intended site—say, the Centers for Disease Control, which maintains the top search result from Google—but to companies that own the elements installed on the page. Here’s why.
When you click that CDC link, you’re making a so-called “first party request.” That request goes to the CDC’s servers, and it returns the HTML file with the page you’re looking for. In this case, it’s “Genital Herpes – CDC Factsheet,” which is perhaps the page on the internet you’d least want anyone to know you’re looking at.
But because the CDC has installed Google Analytics to measure its traffic stats, and has, for some reason, included AddThis code which allows Facebook and Twitter sharing (beckoning the question of who socializes disease pages), the CDC also sends a third party request to each of those companies.
That request looks something like this—www.cdc.gov...—and makes explicit to those third party corporations in its HTTP referrer string that your search was about herpes.
Thus, Libert has discovered that the vast majority of health sites, from the for-profit WebMD.com to the government-run CDC.gov, are loaded with tracking elements that are sending records of your health inquiries to the likes of web giants like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest, and data brokers like Experian and Acxiom.
...every time we do a search for a medical symptom online,
that information is being tracked by a bunch of sites...
originally posted by: greencmp
a reply to: Rezlooper
And now that we have the mandatory sharing of every citizen's health records with the government (I still can't believe that happened), the possibilities for abuse, intentional or accidental, is staggering.
originally posted by: intrptr
Maybe they want us to stop getting "free" internet advice so they can charge us for more doctor visits.
Tell everyone they are being watched doing something and that activity is sure to dry up on some level. Until they dump the whole internet in favor to returning to one sided, top down, information dissemination, thats the best they will be able to pull.
If you are on the internet everything you do is tracked, there and in the real world. So what?