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US HealthCare Site Tightens Privacy

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Under pressure from privacy advocates and senators, the Obama administration seems to have introduced new measures to protect personal information of Americans that was being shared through U.S. government’s healthcare website (HealthCare.gov). The ambitious program, which is being used by millions of Americans to sign up for subsidized insurance, came under scrutiny recently after Associated Press reported that personal details of consumers signing through the site was being shared with private third party companies who seemed to have a commercial interest in the information (we also published an article on the topic here – https://vpncoupons.com/healthcare-privacy-concerns-emerge-us-governments-website/).

Before the administration decided to spring into action, HealthCare.gov was sharing data with multiple third party analytics and data tracking companies. The information was being shared through dozens (almost 50) data connections that were embedded into the site. The list of companies getting access to personal data of consumers included Google, Facebook and Twitter. While there is no evidence that the website shared personally identifiable data (such as names and social security numbers) of American citizens with private companies, AP reported that the information related to age, income, ZIP code as well as details regarding tobacco use and pregnancy was made freely available to third parties.

Following the outcry, the administration decided to crack down on the practice of data sharing through embedded connections. As per the latest reports, the number of embedded connections built into HealthCare.gov has dropped from 50 to 30. Additionally, the government has blocked the practice of sharing of personal information through the portal. Electronic Frontier Foundation lauded the efforts of the administration by calling it “a great first step”. However, other privacy advocates recommended that the portal should ban the practice of embedding data connections altogether as well as honor the “Do Not Track” requests of visitors browsing the website.

After tightening the screws over information sharing through the portal, the administration released an official statement regarding the issue. Kevin Counihan, CEO of the Obamacare program, admitted that privacy questions had been raised regarding the data sharing practices of HealthCare.gov portal. He also mentioned that the administration has taken numerous steps to boost the privacy of consumers plus they are examining additional ways of improving the overall experience of insurance seekers.

In the past, the team managing the portal had maintained that the whole practice of data sharing through embedded connections was only meant to monitor and improve the performance of the website. However, they failed to answer questions regarding how they are monitoring the use of data by the private companies. While the administration has always maintained that the tracking companies are forbidden from using the data for their own commercial gains, there was no way to check whether this clause was being adhered to. The whole episode once again shows that web tracking and analytics remains an extremely lucrative business and marketing companies would spare no effort to capture the personal information of ordinary citizens. The administration has done a good job of curtailing the practice of data sharing through HealthCare.gov but it needs to do a lot more to gain complete trust of privacy advocates and consumers.

April 1, 2015

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