Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Meta sued for violating patient privacy with data tracking tool

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Facebook’s parent company Meta and major US hospitals have violated medical privacy laws with a tracking tool that sends health information to Facebook, two proposed class-action lawsuits allege.

The lawsuits, filed in the Northern District of California in June and July, focus on the Meta Pixel tracking tool. The tool can be installed on websites to provide analytics on Facebook and Instagram ads. It also collects information about how people click around and enter information on those websites.

An investigation by the layout discovered in early June that 33 of the top 100 hospitals in the United States use the Meta Pixel on their websites. It was installed on password-protected patient portals at seven hospitals. The investigation found that the tool sent information about patients’ health, doctor’s appointments and medication allergies to Facebook.

In one of the lawsuits, a patient says her medical information was sent to Facebook by the Meta Pixel tool on the patient portals of the University of California San Francisco and Dignity Health (those hospitals are also defendants in the lawsuit). The patient was then shown advertisements targeting her heart and knee conditions, the lawsuit says.

The other lawsuit, from a patient at the MedStar Health System in Baltimore, Maryland, alleges that at least 664 health care providers sent medical data to Facebook through the Meta Pixel.

Under the HIPAA Medical Privacy Act, healthcare organizations require patient consent to share personally identifiable health information with outside groups. Meta says it requires groups using the Meta Pixel to have the right to share data before sending that data to Facebook and that it filters out sensitive health data. The lawsuits allege that Meta is deliberately not enforcing this policy and that it posted the Pixel on health care organizations’ websites, despite knowing it would collect personal health information.

The lawsuits will need to be certified as class actions by a judge before they can proceed. If either is successful, they can claim damages on behalf of all Facebook users whose medical providers have used the Meta Pixel.

You can read the full complaints below.

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