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November 25, 2010

NHS site allows Facebook and Google tracking

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by Darren Allan

If you use the NHS Choices website, then you should be aware that if you’re logged into Facebook, the site shares information on what topics you’re viewing.

Indeed, according to online identity gurus Garlik, Facebook, Google and other third parties have been allowed to track user activity on the site by the NHS, with the information sharing specifically mentioned on the site’s privacy policy.

What does this mean? Basically, whatever illness you’re looking up, and however embarrassing an ailment it may be, Facebook will know about it. This is due to the Facebook “Like” button on the page, and data is passed even if you don’t click the button.

There’s no way to opt out of the sharing, save ensuring that you’re logged out of Facebook before you visit the site. As Garlik points out on its blog: “If I walked into a doctor’s surgery and said… “Oh hi, that guy of about 30 who just came in the door, what advice leaflets did he pick up?”… there is no way on Earth that they would tell me. [But] online, the NHS are sharing this information out liberally.”

Garlik has contacted the NHS to ask why this is the case, and will take the matter forward to the ICO if necessary.

MP for West Bromwich East Tom Watson has also picked up on this story, and sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Health. He wrote: “I understand the demands to offer government service online but this should not be achieved at the price of privacy. I urge you to take steps to ensure that third party websites should not have access to such information. This could be simply achieved by ensuring all third party interaction is run on an opt-in system, rather than the current opt-out model.”

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  1. This just shows us how insecure facebook is and the repercussions this could have. Facebook has become too insecure and is almost unusable today. No content on facebook is safe. I have quit facebook in disgust and will be joining a safer social networking platform like MyCube or Diaspora as soon as they release

    Comment by Cedric Best — November 25, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

  2. NHS cant share information on Facebook. The “like” button is really dangerous and should be used as less as possible. There are too many privacy concerns on Facebook. It has become too insecure to use now and I am really excited about the upcoming launches of Diaspora and MyCube. Both seem very promising and I hope they can make bring back online privacy

    Comment by javed akram — November 25, 2010 @ 8:25 pm

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