A recent investigation conducted by nonprofit news publication The Markup and KFF Health News has revealed that 12 of the largest pharmacies in the United States are sharing sensitive health information with social media companies. Pharmacies such as Albertsons, Costco, CVS, and Walmart were found to be sharing data with Meta (formerly Facebook), Google, and Microsoft.
The investigation found that these pharmacies have tracking tools, known as “pixels,” on their websites that collect information about what consumers are browsing and purchasing. This data is then shared with the aforementioned tech giants. The report specifically noted that information regarding purchases of emergency contraception (*plan-B*), pregnancy tests, HIV tests, and prenatal vitamins was being shared.
This is not the first instance of pharmacies sharing sensitive health information. A previous investigation by ProPublica found that websites selling abortion pills were also sharing customer data with Google and other third-party sites.
In response to the investigation, some of the listed pharmacies have commented on their plans to reduce tracking. Others have placed the responsibility on third-party companies for any misuse of the collected data. Many did not respond or refused to comment on the matter.
It is worth noting that while drugstores and grocery stores with pharmacies are partially covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) when it comes to prescriptions picked up from the pharmacy counter, the same level of protection does not apply to over-the-counter medications, tests, and other health-related products sold in the pharmacy aisle.
In light of the investigation, it is crucial for consumers to be aware of the potential risks associated with online purchases of sensitive health products. It is advisable to review privacy notices and be cautious about sharing personal health information online.
– The Markup
– KFF Health News