American hospitals forwarded patient data to Meta

Until recently, trackers were installed on websites and portals of at least 33 American hospitals that sent patient data to Facebook. That writes The Markup. The social media company received details about doctor appointments, allergies and illnesses.

The journalistic organization Themarkup investigated Newsweek compiled the top 100 US hospitals and found that 33 of those hospitals had a tracking pixel from Meta, Facebook’s parent company, installed on their website. That pixel, the Meta Pixel, according to The Markup, in some cases collected the name of a doctor with whom a patient wanted to make an appointment, as well as the medical search term that the internet user had searched for on the hospital’s website. In other cases, the possible disease, which patients could indicate in a drop-down menu, was also sent to Meta.

According to The Markup, the tracking pixel was also installed in seven online patient portals that can only be accessed via a username and password. In five of the seven cases, the names of medications were forwarded as well as the description of allergic reactions and information about future doctor appointments. In total, according to The Markup, these 33 hospitals have forwarded more than 26 million records of patient admissions and outpatient visits to Meta in 2020, according to The Markup.

According to privacy experts, these hospitals may have violated a US law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. That law stipulates that American hospitals may not share patient data with third parties if it is not anonymized. This is only permitted if a patient has given explicit and prior consent. According to The Markup, the hospitals do not have such patient consents.

At the time of writing, seven of the 33 hospitals have removed Meta’s tracking pixel. The social media company states in a response that it removes privacy-sensitive health data if it has been incorrectly forwarded by users of Meta Business Tools.

Seven American hospitals had added a Meta Pixel to their online patient portal. Source: The Markup