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Medical data and financial information for sale

Data brokers are paying big money to collect information about you. CNN reports that information such as the websites you visit, the medication you purchase, your health conditions and financial concerns may be sold to companies. Do you suffer from depression, herpes, bed-wetting or diabetes? Guess what, certain companies might know because they have purchased medical data and financial data lists.

The good news is that this there are federal laws to protect you from discrimination and insurance coverage and employment denials based on the information outlined above, but more and more legislators, as well as privacy advocates, have growing concerns about how this information could be used against consumers.

What businesses may want your information?


The uses for private data such as medical data are endless, and it’s not just the creepy crawler ads that follow you when you browse online. Now food manufacturers may purchase information about your dietary restrictions to sale a slew of products which are gluten-free or sugar free. And what if you have a health condition such as Alzheimer’s or depression? Just wait, pharmaceutical companies will find you.

Consumer advocates warn that although some of your medical data may be protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA; this will not apply to information you provide online, searches you make, or any other surveys you complete about your health. Only the medical data given to doctors, pharmacies and health plans is protected. Also, remember, any medical data which is not protected under HIPAA may be sold to data brokers and companies.

What is being done to protect your medical data?


Unfortunately not much has been done yet to protect your data, which means you will have to be proactive. Some companies claim they have “ethical guidelines which dictate that consumers should be given clear notice if their medical data will be used by marketers.” Others argue they have internal controls which only allow certain companies to purchase certain types of data. Critics continue to complain, however, arguing that consumers should have more information about how their data may be sold and the process should be transparent.

Americans use online tools to access medical data


One of the greatest concerns is the misuse of medical data. Right now experts estimate 60-80% of Americans have used the internet to access medical data; a percentage that rivals the portion of Americans who get health information from physicians.

Although the Federal Trade Commission recently recommended that Congress pass a law requiring companies to get express consent from consumers before their sensitive healthcare information can be shared or sold, there has been little progress made on this front.

What does this mean for you? It means many individuals who choose to gather information online have no idea how their privacy is invaded and how companies may use the information mined to market pharmaceuticals and health products to them based on information they thought was private.