Privacy pragmatists often are willing to share some parts of themselves in exchange for access to free tools and information over the internet. It has become part of conducting business online daily for us to offer up a little nugget of information about ourselves in exchange for access to a particular good or service at a discounted price. At times however, even those pragmatists have lowered their guard a bit too greatly without even being aware of just what type of a target they have made themselves.
We live in an age in which we share with others through social media our likes and dislikes, our photos, our daily events and activities. We are used to sharing information under the guise that our privacy is being respected. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. For those conspiracy theorists out there, let’s stoke that fire a bit more.
Consider the following scenario. You are a young parent. This is your first child. You have read every book you could get your hands on in order to determine the best choices that you feel will prepare you to care for your child medically, spiritually, and emotionally. Perhaps you might have even purchased these books online. Say you subscribe to a blog that other young parents join to share ideas and resources. You may even share things through social media about the health of your child in order to brainstorm with other parents in order to determine whether a slight fever is due to a cold, colic, or an ear infection. After all, there are times as parents when even we don’t know exactly what is wrong with our child or what will help them feel better. When children are young or unable to communicate with us, we rely on the health care industry to assist us. We trust that they are there to enable us to care for our children.
In our case, the child has a fever and also appears to have diaper rash. What if you decided to go to a trusted search engine or health care website in order to check out those symptoms? Let’s say for the sake of argument that the site you searched provided results that indicated that there was something seriously wrong with and potentially life threatening to your child. What would your initial reaction be? Would you logically assume that the site could be misinforming you? Or, are you too busy packing your child up in the car seat and rushing them to your closest health care provider?
After all, people do not lie on the internet, right? Especially companies that provide information about health care, they would never mislead us the consumer. Would they? Either way, you provide care for your child. Whether you listen to the advice of the web or not, your priority is for the care of your child, so you are not necessarily concerned with what information you have just surrendered about yourself or your child.
Back in November 2010, complaint was filed with the Federal Trade Commission, the Center for Digital Democracy, U.S. PIRG, Consumer Watchdog, and the World Privacy Forum. There was actually an entire commission formed to address “unfair and deceptive advertising practices that consumers face as they seek health information and services online.” The reason for this, simply put, is that given the opportunity to spy on you without regulation or oversight, companies will.
According to Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, “Patients and other health consumers expect that their privacy will be respected and protected when they go online. But increasingly, detailed information about our medical concerns and interests are gathered and compiled, including what marketers now term the ‘online patient journey.’ As the country moves to digital medical records, and the largest interactive marketers see online pharma marketing a growing profit center, U.S. health consumer privacy is at further risk.”
We trust that U.S. PIRG will continue to serve the public interest and advocate for its members as that is their mission and has been for over twenty years. Bottom line, all consumers need to be involved with understanding and protecting Fair Information Practices. It is an issue that is not going away any time soon. The FTC must also work to protect our privacy when it comes to health and medical privacy online. Bottom line, think twice before you share medically online.
Christiansen, Linda. Business Horizons, Nov2011, Vol. 54 Issue 6, p509-514, 6p; DOI: 10.1016/j.bushor.2011.06.002
Narayanan, Arvind; Shmatikov, Vitaly. Communications of the ACM, Jun2010, Vol. 53 Issue 6, p24-26, 3p, 1 Illustration; DOI: 10.1145/1743546.1743558
Anonymous. U.S. Newswire [Washington] CDD, U.S. PIRG, Consumer Watchdog, and World Privacy Forum Call on FTC to Investigate Interactive Marketing of Pharmaceutical and Health Products and Services to Consumers and Health Professionals. (23 Nov 2010.) Retrieved from: http://proxy.msbcollege.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/807991375?accountid=41205