If you don't trust the government with your health details, you're probably making the right call. After all, it hasn't exactly done a great job of keeping said details private. The "Obamacare" website, HealthCare.gov, has been sharing citizens' details with more than a dozen third parties, and a lot of the information can be used to identify individuals and their habits.
The report comes from the Associated Press, which alleges that Healthcare.gov shares data with prominent online advertisers. Researchers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation have independently confirmed this, and named 14 third-party advertisers that collect data, including Google, Twitter, Yahoo and YouTube.
Neither the AP nor the EFF has been able to confirm the full scope of the shared information, but it includes a user's age, state, Zip code, income and whether he or she smokes, is a parent or is pregnant. The tracking seems to occur even when the user has a browser with "Do Not Track" turned on.
Since Healthcare.gov logs users' IP addresses as well, it's not only possible, but relatively easy, for any of these third parties to identify affected individuals — and hence send them targeted ads and marketing materials, or sell the personal information to even more companies.
The government assured the AP that although third parties have access to Healthcare.gov data, the companies are not allowed to use it for commercial purposes. Instead, they are supposed to work in tandem with Healthcare.gov to "measure the performance" of the website and create a more "intuitive experience." It is not clear how providing advertisers with data could directly benefit the Healthcare.gov interface, however.
Tom's Guide contacted Healthcare.gov to learn more about the issue, but we have not yet received a response.
Since Healthcare.gov is a necessity for many people to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, your options for keeping your data private are limited. However, browser extensions like Ghostery and the EFF's own Privacy Badger can inform you which companies are tracking you on any given website, and usually give you the opportunity to opt out.
- Free vs. Paid Antivirus: Avira vs. Bitdefender
- Best Antivirus Software and Apps
- Mobile Security Guide: Everything You Need to Know