Healthcare.gov Tells Third Parties Whether You Smoke

Know before you share your info.

 

Screenshot from healthcare.gov

Healthcare.gov has suffered outages, bugs, hacks, and setbacks. And even now, with the situation immensely improved, there are still lingering questions. A new one is about the insurance site’s relationships with third-party services.

The Associated Press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are investigating personal user data, like age and income, that healthcare.gov gives to advertising and Web traffic analysis companies. These third parties could even find out whether you’re pregnant or a smoker.

The AP is clear that the data doesn’t seem to have been used improperly at this point. But the discovery is significant because even data that doesn’t seem identifying can potentially be combined with other benign information to create user profiles and eventually determine someone’s identity. Healthcare.gov’s privacy policy states (with emphasis preserved):

HealthCare.gov uses a variety of Web measurement software tools. We use them to collect the information listed in the “Types of information collected” section above. The tools collect information automatically and continuously. No personally identifiable information is collected by these tools.

EFF notes that healthcare.gov does not recognize or comply with Do Not Track. Cloud service Akamai, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, and Web analytics service Mixpanel are just some of the companies that EFF confirmed receive data from healthcare.gov. Obama administration representative Aaron Albright, told the AP that third parties “are prohibited from using information from these tools on healthcare.gov for their companies’ purposes.”

Information about healthcare.gov’s data habits emerged on Tuesday, soon before President Obama delivered his State of the Union address. In it he discussed improving cybersecurity in the United States and protecting citizen privacy. He said, “No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids.” That should probably apply domestically, too.