The Associated Press has recently confirmed reports that a number of third-party tech firms have connections embedded in the government heath care website, HealthCare.gov. These sites can gain information such as your ZIP code, your age, your income, and even whether or not you smoke. Though there is no indication that the personal information of HealthCare.gov has been misused, the number of nongovernmental connections is raising security concerns.
Third-party data companies collect valuable information when you go online that allows them to track website performance and tailor advertisements. Each and every computer and smartphone has a unique identification number, a signature of sorts that allows them to be distinguishable. Data collection is a standard part of e-commerce and is widely used by Internet giants such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter. While no personal information can be directly taken, these companies can piece together an Internet user profile based on the sites you visit, the terms for which you search, even your shopping habits.
A tech expert who recently evaluated the healthcare website was surprised to find over 50 third-party connections running in the background, unnoticed by average users. These connections attract attention because the slow down a site’s performance.
The Associated Press attempted to replicate the results. According to their report “in one 10-minute visit to HealthCare.gov recently, dozens of websites were accessed behind the scenes. They included Google’s data-analytics service, Twitter, Facebook, and a host of online advertising providers.”
These companies cannot learn your name, your birthday or your Social Security number. However they can combine information gathered from HealthCare.gov with data collected from other websites and create a fairly accurate description of who you are.
The recent privacy concerns arise as President Barack Obama intends to tighten cyber security. Indeed, one of the highlights of his seventh State of the Union address will be an initiative to protect personal data online.
The government-run website HealthCare.gov is currently operating in 37 states (the other 13 states have their own insurance markets). Mr. Obama intends to have a major enrollment campaign in the upcoming weeks to boost the number of those subscribed to the subsidized private coverage to over nine million people.
Although the administration has assured subscribers of confidentiality, it has yet to explain how it will ensure its privacy and security policies are being adhered to.