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November 27, 2010

ICO to investigate NHS Choices over Facebook policy

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by Darren Allan

Earlier this week, you may remember we wrote a story about the NHS Choices website, and the fact that it allows Facebook, along with Google and some other third party sites, to track user activity.

Because there’s a “Like” button for Facebook built into the NHS Choices page, whether you click it or not, if you’re logged into Facebook, the social networking site will be passed data as to what you’ve looked at.

In other words, what potentially embarrassing ailments you’ve looked up. So if you’ve got something unmentionable, Facebook will know about it.

Online identity experts Garlik picked up on this, and said they would be moving forward and contacting the ICO on the matter if they didn’t receive a satisfactory response from the NHS to their enquiries. Whether or not Garlik contacted the Information Commissioner isn’t clear, but the ICO has now announced it’s going to look into the affair.

According to an article on PC Pro, the ICO has asked the NHS for an explanation of why it is sharing this data with Facebook. We’d like one too, for that matter.

The ICO told PC Pro: “There are few things more sensitive to an individual than their health information. We have contacted the Department for Health to find out whether any details of individuals consulting the NHS Choices website are available to third parties.”

MP for West Bromwich East Tom Watson, who has previously written a letter to the Secretary of State for Health, has also tabled an early day motion in which he states that he believes that it is “inappropriate for advertising and social networking companies to observe what an individual is viewing on a Government website that deals with sensitive medical information.”

He further notes: “The sharing of personal data of its users with companies outside the European Economic Area and with for-profit advertising companies may render the NHS in breach of its data protection obligations to the Information Commissioner’s Office.”

Thus far, the NHS remains unmoved by the complaints, and the Facebook Like button is still in place on the site. Indeed, over 1,000 people currently like it.

Meanwhile, if you’re logged into Facebook, bear in mind you have no Choices in the matter of sharing your health data with the social networking organisation while surfing on the NHS website.

Story link: ICO to investigate NHS Choices over Facebook policy


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2 Comments »
  1. I think the privacy issues surrounding facebook have crossed the limit. Advertisers can access most content and are using it for their monetary gains. No content on facebook can ever be completely private. I have quit facebook as I believe it is too insecure and I am hoping that new social networking platforms like MyCube or Diaspora restore privacy to social media

    Comment by Cedric Best — November 28, 2010 @ 5:16 pm

  2. Inevitable privacy lapses are the reason I cant use facebook anymore, as much as i might need to. Facebook just isnt secure enough and privacy is a huge concern for me.Ive been waiting for new social networking platforms such as MyCube and Diaspora, which seem very promising in terms of privacy. I really hope they live up to their promise

    Comment by javed akram — November 28, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

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