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The Resource Center Online Security Issues & Protection The Resource Center | article

Government Healthcare Site Shares Patients’ Personal Data

The Associated Press recently reported that the United States’ health insurance website,, has been sending users’ information to dozens of third-party companies in advertising and data analysis for marketing purposes.

The full range of information sent to third parties is unknown, but can include an individual’s age, income, ZIP code, smoking habits and pregnancy status. It can also communicate a person’s Internet address, which can then be paired with other data to find out other personal information, such as name and home address.

Help protect yourself from identity theft by limiting the amount of information about you that is shared online.

Help protect yourself from identity theft by limiting the amount of information about you that is shared online.

The Associated Press reported that officials from the Obama administration said the data sharing with third-party companies was intended to improve customer experience, and that it is illegal for those companies to use that information for commercial interests.

There is no reason to believe the information from the healthcare website has been misused in any way, but lawmakers are questioning the prudence of sending such specific information out to so many companies.

“This new information is extremely concerning,” Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote to the administration, “not only because it violates the privacy of millions of Americans, but because it may potentially compromise their security.”

Theresa Payton, a former White House chief information officer, also pointed out that the government can’t be sure how much security third-party sites are using.

“You don’t need all of that data to do customer service,” she told the Associated Press. “We know hackers are just waiting at the door, salivating to get at this data.”

The Obama administration’s spokesman, Aaron Albright, said that the website is compliant with the regulations of the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). However, NIST has also warned consumers that identity thieves can use disparate, random pieces of information to piece together meaningful identifying data.

Third-parties can match your computer’s unique signature with things you search, such as illnesses and medical issues. This information could conceivably be put together to violate confidentiality laws, especially since users aren’t even aware their information is being shared in any way.

Here are some things you can do to secure your private information, and help in protecting your identity:

  • Delete your cookies: Delete the search history and cookies on your browser frequently so your Internet activity remains more secure. Doing this will keep your computer from remembering passwords you saved, but this is probably for the best since saving passwords online makes you vulnerable to hacking and identity theft.
  • Opt out: Go to your browser preferences and click on the tab labeled “Privacy.” Then, check the “Do Not Track” box to enable this feature in your computer. The feature was debuted as a response to the NSA spying revelation. However, according to a Forrester Research Report, only 19 percent of users take advantage of the privacy feature.

No one can prevent identity theft, especially in this digital age. However, you can detect it as soon as possible. Register for identity fraud protection, which can notify you of certain activities that may indicate fraud.