Vice: Health search queries are being tracked
Vice reported Monday that health-information outlets like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and WebMD are passing along health search queries to corporations. The sites for CDC.gov and WebMD.com are “loaded with tracking elements,” the magazine wrote, saying that those elements are then used to “send records of your health inquiries to the likes of web giants like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest, and data brokers like Experian and Acxiom.”
Tim Libert, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, who developed software that analyzed the top 50 search results for an estimated 2,000 common diseases, found that 91% of those resources made third-party requests (i.e., search queries) available to outside companies. Despite the tracking elements appearing on both government and for-profit websites, Libert found that the latter were “often much worse.”
“WebMD, for instance, is the 106th most-visited site in the US, according to Alexa.com, 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,” Vice wrote.
Google was identified as the prime culprit for the ubiquitousness of these tracking elements, with 78% of Libert's analyzed pages containing Google-owned tracking assets.