Nearly All Hospital Websites Send Tracking Data to Third Parties

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From MedPage Today: “Third-party tracking is used on almost all U.S. hospital websites, endangering patient privacy, a cross-sectional observational study found.

Of 3,747 hospitals included in the 2019 American Hospital Association (AHA) annual survey, 98.6% of their website home pages had at least one third-party data transfer, and 94.3% had at least one third-party cookie.

‘In the U.S., third-party tracking is ubiquitous and extensive,’ researchers led by Ari B. Friedman, MD, PhD of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, wrote in Health Affairs. ‘The high number of entities engaged in tracking on hospital websites heightens potential privacy risks to patients.’

The tracking data most commonly went to Google’s parent company Alphabet (98.5% of homepages), followed by Meta (formerly Facebook), which was used in 55.6% of hospital homepages. Adobe Systems and AT&T collected data from 31.4% and 24.6% of hospital pages, respectively.

‘What we found is that it’s virtually impossible to look at any hospital website in the country without exposing yourself to some tracking,’ study coauthor Matthew McCoy, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania, told MedPage Today. ‘That’s really significant, because even if you were a patient with privacy concerns and you wanted to avoid this kind of thing, what that means is you really don’t have an option to do that.’

. . . McCoy said the number of companies tracking data on any given website was alarming. ‘Imagine you were browsing a hospital website for something related to your health, and you had one person looking over your shoulder and gleaning information about your health from a browsing session — that would probably make you pretty uncomfortable,’ he said. ‘Multiply that by 16, by 20, and you’ve got that many more people looking over your shoulder.'”

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