One more reason self-diagnosing illnesses online is dangerous!
If you're the type that's quick to use the web to self-diagnose yourself, you might want to read this. Researcher Professor Marco Huesch found that a number of health websites are actually leaking web users' search terms and information to third-party advertising and marketing companies. In other words, if you're typing in "yeast infection" or "abnormal discharge" into the search engine of one of these sites, it may not be as anonymous as you think. Isn't that kind of nuts?
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Professor Huesch, who teaches at the University of Southern Calfornia and Duke's School of Business, found that quite a few popular health websites used a "tracking element" to track search terms and report them to advertising and marketing companies. He used an interception software to monitor all this, following 20 leading health sites. Not only were these websites tracking on the site but apparently also using social media tracking as well.
"A patient who searches on a "free" health-related website for information related to 'herpes' should be able to assume that the inquiry is anonymous," wrote Professor Huesch in his research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. But unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case. I don't know about you, but just knowing search terms on a site are being tracked kind of freaks me out. And it also makes me wonder how much more of my privacy is being put out there.
Huesh is actually concerned that that information being passed on to marketing companies could actually be used to create profiles of individual web users. How scary is that? "In theory, someone could build up a very powerful document with all your medical conditions, the drugs you're taking, where you work, who your relatives are, where you live, and other personal information," he told The Verge. And even though there's no evidence proving these profiles actually exist, it's not a far stretch. Not to mention, it's definitely going to make people lose trust in these sites.
People shouldn't feel like they can't trust websites to not put all their business out there for anyone to access. I know sites use my info for advertising and all, but this is downright scary. Hopefully this is addressed soon, otherwise you can bet I won't be typing in any of medical symptoms into the web again!
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