Of course big tech is tracking your WebMD visits

Of course big tech is tracking your WebMD visits

Information about our health is supposed to be sacred, but the internet has basically thrown that tenet of society out the window.

A new report from the Financial Times has found that the extent to which consumer medical websites share data with internet advertisers like Google, Facebook, and others, is vast. The report specifically looked at UK websites, and there is no concrete indication that this is the case for the U.S. However, the revelation about health data’s place in the advertising information ecosystem is still revealing no matter the country: When you search websites like WebMD, advertisers know about it and can use that data to build upon what they know about you, and sell you things.

To which we say: duh. Anyone who doesn’t think advertisers are watching your every move online hasn’t been paying attention. In our ad-driven, data-sucking digital universe, why would your WebMD visits be any different?

The types of information advertisers learn about are physical symptoms you could be experiencing, women’s health information like menstruation or pregnancy, or prescriptions you’re taking. The FT report specifically ties WebMD search queries to Facebook: When you visit WebMD and enter your stuffy nose and sore throat into its “symptom finder,” and then get a diagnosis (it’s lupus!), Facebook, thanks to a data-sharing agreement, knows about it. 

That could be troubling purely if you care about your privacy, but also because it could be used as part of discriminatory marketing campaigns. For example, if these health searches reveal that you have a disability, then advertisers for services like jobs, housing, and credit could adjust the offers they show based on that fact.

The report sounds especially alarming because it categorizes searches people conduct online on websites including WebMD, Healthline, Drugs.com, BabyCentre (a website owned by Mashable’s parent co

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