Looking up Symptoms Online. These companies are tracking you.
In April 2014, Tim Libert, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, custom-built software called webXray to analyze the top 50 search results for nearly 2,000 common diseases (over 80,000 pages total). He found the results startling: a full 91 percent of the pages made what are known as third-party requests to outside companies. That means when you search for “cold sores,” for instance, and click the highly ranked “Cold Sores Topic Overview WebMD” link, the website is passing your request for information about the disease along to one or more (and often many, many more) other corporations.
According to Libert’s research, which is published in the the Communications of the ACM, about 70 percent of the time, the data transmitted “contained information exposing specific conditions, treatments, and diseases.” That, he says, is “potentially putting user privacy at risk.” And it means you’ll probably want to think twice before looking up medical information on the internet.
Thus, Libert has discovered that the vast majority of health sites, from the for-profit WebMD.com to the government-run CDC.gov, are loaded with tracking elements that are sending records of your health inquiries to the likes of web giants like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest, and data brokers like Experian and Acxiom.
But for-profit health sites are often much worse. WebMD, for instance, is the 106th most-visited site in the US, according to Alexa, and figures prominently in search results for most commonly searched diseases. It sends third party requests to a whopping 34 separate domains, including the data brokers Experian and Acxiom.
“WebMD is basically calling up everybody in town and telling them that’s what you’re looking at,” Libert said. Seeing as how there’s a good chance that’s a sensitive disease, users would likely not be pleased.
If you need to research medical conditions, use http://www.startpage.com – click on the second link “VIEW BY PROXY” – startpage will connect to the page and relay the data to you. WebMD will never see your IP or know that it’s you, as Startpage will strip your IP and all identifying data. Finally it then deletes your IP and all trace of you.
Startpage operates from Holland – and enforces EU Data Protection law. It has the EU Europrise award for privacy… it’s audited by the EU to ensure that no data remains on it’s servers.
Don’t use US search engines – use our European search engines if it’s medical information you need… http://www.startpage.com