Facebook has Been Receiving a Plethora of Medical Information

  • By Steven
  • Sep 26, 2022

Hospitals’ Websites Sent Medical Data to Facebook

In early June of 2022, the nonprofit news reporter The Markup discovered that an ad-based service, Meta Pixel, was being used by 33 of the top 100 hospitals in the US. Meta is now being sued for allegedly sending sensitive medical information to Facebook, along with two of the involved hospitals. The prosecution is using the grounds that Meta and the hospitals knew they were leaking information and did nothing to alert consumers.

How Did the Leak Occur?

The leak was a product of Meta Pixel, an ad analytic service run by Facebook's parent company, Meta. Every time a patient scheduled a doctor's appointment through one of the websites, their personal and medical information was sent to Facebook. They would then filter through the data, using it to focus the ads it would push to the consumer. One woman stated that after setting up an appointment, she was then targeted by ads for her heart and knee conditions.

What Information Was Viewed or Stolen?

At the time of writing, no one is entirely sure of how much data was leaked and how many people were affected. While Meta has promised The Markup that there are filtering systems in place to stop Facebook from gaining access to sensitive information, many customers are worried for their safety. That said, when a patient scheduled their appointment, the doctor's name and the selected illness were sent to Facebook. This causes many dangers for patients and doctors alike. Patient and doctor safety and confidentiality are being compromised with their locations (including IP addresses) going to a third party.

How Did Meta Admit to the Breach?

At the time of writing, no one has admitted to anything directly. Any hospitals that have taken the Meta Pixel off their websites have stated that it was "out of an abundance of caution." This statement was from Steve Schooff, a spokesperson for Froedtert Hospital. Only a portion of the hospitals have removed Meta Pixel from their sites. 

What Will Become of the Stolen Information?

The stolen information will most likely not go anywhere; the leak was for the sake of targeted ads, not to harm or hurt any patients. This is still a violation of privacy and most likely a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violation, but with the overturn of Rowe vs. Wade, this isn't exactly the first thing on everyone's minds. Patients are outraged, feeling that they should have been told of this sooner, or better yet, that this should never have happened.

What Should Affected Parties Do in the Aftermath of the Breach?

Anyone using Johns Hopkins Hospital, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Tufts Medical Center, MemorialCare Long Beach Hospital, or Tampa General Hospital, among others, should be making sure to keep themselves safe. This means installing malware protection (since IP addresses were released), using software that alerts you if your information is found anywhere near the dark web, and watching your back online to ensure you stay safe. This way, you can focus on work and play, not fear.

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