Privacy is Dead

Medical Websites Are Selling Your Searches About That Mystery Rash to Advertisers

Never using the Internet again.
Call him instead. (ABC)

Call him instead. (ABC)

Remember when you first discovered that blistery rash in your no-no area and you rushed over to WebMD to figure out what the hell it was? You popped open an incognito window to ensure your privacy and shield yourself from outside judgement, but it turns out that those diagnosis websites are secretly obtaining your searches to sell for customized ads.

A new study from the University of Southern California revealed that your gross searches are lucrative profit centers as websites are cluttered with third party trackers that are selling your results to marketers and advertisers. The survey said it wasn’t clear if the sites aggregate the results with other users or track each individual person.

It tracked 20 popular health sites, and all of them passed at least some data on to an average of six or seven third-party outlets. But there is some comfort: users’ data wasn’t sold on government-created websites,like the National Institute of Health. However, users’ data wasn’t sold on government-created websites, like the National Institute of Health.

It’s not entirely surprising that websites sell the data since they are ad-supported and free-to-use, but the study’s author Dr. Marco Huesch called the breach of privacy worrisome:

“The Internet has allowed us to access lots of free content, but as the saying goes, ‘If you’re not a paying customer for a website, then you’re the product,’ ” Huesch said.

Seize the opportunity to call your hot doctor instead.

Follow Jordan Valinsky on Twitter or via RSS. jvalinsky@observer.com