Barbie was invented in 1959 as a secretive way to show girls that they could grow up to be anything. At the time, all dolls were baby dolls — sending a message to girls that, if they were going to play and use their imagination, then they should imagine themselves as a mother. Barbie, who we get to see in movie form this summer, was and is different — an adult doll who could be dressed up to be whatever you could imagine. We imagine that this is unintentional, but hospitals are also secretively using online tracking technologies (like cookies or tracking pixels) to send patient data to tech and social media companies. Like Barbie, this practice is not new. In fact, hospitals were called out last summer for using “Meta Pixel” on their websites that sent things like patients’ medications and details about their upcoming doctor’s appointments to Facebook. In December 2022, the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR), the enforcer of HIPAA privacy violations committed by health care entities, published a bulletin explaining and warning about the issue. But this pixel-tracking thing is super popular. Just this week, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon published a study showing that 98.6% of hospitals are doing this. Naturally, the OCR announced it would investigate the study’s findings — and the Federal Trade Commission already took enforcement action against mobile apps GoodRx and BetterHelp for this same third-party-tracking-pixel thing. What happens now? We expect that OCR will track down hospitals in the real world just like Ken tracks down Barbie in the movie… but doubtful they will use rollerblades to do it.
April 7, 2023 | 3 min read
April 7, 2023
Only What Matters in Health Information Policy
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