Ill. attorney general Madigan questions websites' privacy of customers' information
By Joseph Conn
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked a number of popular online healthcare websites and healthcare services providers to be more transparent about their privacy policies and how they use their customers' personal information.
Madigan said she sent letters to executives at WebMD.com, weightwatchers.com, drugs.com, menshealth.com, mayoclinic.com, about.com, health.com and mercola.com, asking them to disclose how much users' health information they capture, how they store it and whether they share it with outside companies.
“Maintaining privacy in a digital world is one of the most critical consumer protection challenges we now face,” Madigan said in a written statement. “While websites can offer important information, the use of the Internet to research health-related issues also raises troubling privacy concerns.”
Not all healthcare records are covered under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 2006, the main federal healthcare privacy law. With the explosive growth of the Internet as a source of healthcare information, monitoring and storage, awareness is growing that another world of data is out there in need of protection.
Madigan's action comes on the heels of a report by California researcher Dr. Marco Huesch in the July 8 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine that 13 of 20 popular healthcare websites contained embedded “tracker” elements that enable a third party to report on a visitor's browsing history.
Madigan noted a recent Pew Research Center research report found that 72% of U.S. adults have used the Internet for healthcare research.
Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn