Health-related website search information may be leaked to third-party tracking entities

July 8, 2013

Patients who search on free health-related websites for information related to a medical condition may have the health information they provide leaked to third party tracking entities through code on those websites, according to JAMA Internal Medicine research letter by Marco D. Huesch, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Between December 2012 and January 2013, using a sample of 20 popular health-related websites, Huesch used freely available privacy tools to detect third parties. Commercial interception software also was used to intercept hidden traffic from the researcher's computer to the websites of third parties.

Huesch found that all 20 sites had at least one third-party element, with the average being six or seven. Thirteen of the 20 websites had one or more tracking element. No tracking elements were found on physician-oriented sites closely tied to professional groups. Five of the 13 sites that had tracker elements had also enabled social media button tracking. Using the interception tool, searches were leaked to third-party tracking entities by seven websites. Search terms were not leaked to third-party tracking sites when done on U.S. government sites or four of the five physician-oriented sites, according to the study results.

"Failure to address these concerns may diminish trust in health-related websites and reduce the of some people to access health-related information online," the study concludes.

Explore further: Facebook software slip sidelines host of websites

More information: JAMA Intern Med. Published online July 8, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.7795

Related Stories

Facebook software slip sidelines host of websites

February 8, 2013

A Facebook software problem on Thursday temporarily sidelined websites synched to a feature that lets people's identities at the leading social network follow them around the Internet.

Recommended for you

Exercise and vitamin D better together for heart health

April 27, 2017

Johns Hopkins researchers report that an analysis of survey responses and health records of more than 10,000 American adults for nearly 20 years suggests a "synergistic" link between exercise and good vitamin D levels in ...

'Diet' products can make you fat, study shows

April 25, 2017

High-fat foods are often the primary target when fighting obesity, but sugar-laden "diet" foods could be contributing to unwanted weight gain as well, according to a new study from the University of Georgia.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.