Beth Fulkerson featured in an article by InformationWeek: Tracking Pixels Continue to Cause Data Privacy Issues in Healthcare

Beth Fulkerson featured in an article by InformationWeek: Tracking Pixels Continue to Cause Data Privacy Issues in Healthcare

Culhane Meadows’ Chicago partner Beth Fulkerson was recently quoted in an article for InformationWeek which discusses a recent NHS data breach and the use of pixel targeting.

Here are a few excerpts from the article:

National Health Service (NHS) trusts, providers within the United Kingdom’s public health system, have come under scrutiny for the use of Meta Pixel. An investigation conducted by the Observer found that 20 NHS trust websites shared browsing information with Meta, breaching patient privacy, according to The Guardian.

NHS trusts are not the first healthcare organizations to run into data privacy problems related to tracking pixels. In October 2022, Advocate Aurora Health, a nonprofit health system with hospitals in Illinois and Wisconsin, had a data leak related to its use of tracking pixels from Google and Meta. Approximately 3 million individuals were affected.

Tracking pixels are embedded into websites and track user behavior. While this can be a powerful tool for marketing and advertising purposes, issues arise when the data extracted and shared with external companies, like Meta, is protected health information (PHI).

The data collected, without user consent, via Meta Pixel includes personal medical information. NHS trusts sent Meta details of patient visits to websites on HIV, cancer, and gender identity services, among other topics. The Guardian shared specific examples of data being shared along with the user’s IP address and Facebook details. Meta could use this information for targeted advertising.

Despite the frequent patient data privacy issues that arise around the use of Meta Pixel and other tracking pixels, they are commonly used in healthcare. The Markup published an investigation in June 2022 detailing the use of Meta Pixel by 33 of Newsweek’s top 100 hospitals in the US.

Healthcare enterprises, like many of the NHS trusts, may now know that PHI is being leaked to a third party, but ignorance likely won’t shield them from regulatory consequences. “Regulators no longer allow website publishers to hide behind their DPAs [data processing agreements] — when a service provider like Meta breaches a DPA by collecting more info than they were supposed to, or uses in a way they shouldn’t, companies can no longer merely point to the service provider,” says Beth Fulkerson, a technology law and privacy and data security attorney and partner at full-service law firm Culhane Meadows. “Companies are on the hook if they failed to check up on what the service providers were doing.”

Healthcare organizations have a responsibility to protect the privacy of their patients. How can they uphold that responsibility when it comes to the use of tracking pixels?

The first step is determining if and how tracking pixels are being used. Schmetz notes that tools like Ghostery can identify trackers, allowing healthcare organizations to determine whether to remove them from their content management systems.

Fulkerson indicates that there is a level of risk for healthcare enterprises that use tracking pixels. “Think twice before using a tool that was built by an organization that is focused on consumers generally — rather than a specialized tool built for the healthcare industry or other industries with sensitive data,” she says. “And maybe get worried when that service provider is getting into trouble with regulators.”

Read the entire article HERE.

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