Class Action Claims Patient Portal Websites Share Medical Data With Facebook Without Consent
Doe v. Meta Platforms, Inc. et al.
Filed: July 25, 2022 ◆§ 3:22-cv-04293
UCSF Medical Center and Dignity Health Medical Foundation face a class action over their alleged use of a Meta (Facebook) tracking pixel on their respective patient portal websites.
A Sacramento County, California woman has filed a proposed class action against University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center and Dignity Health Medical Foundation for their use of a Meta (Facebook) tracking pixel on their respective patient portal websites.
The 57-page complaint says that when a patient enters health information on the password-protected UCSF Medical Center or Dignity Health websites, the pixel, a snippet of code that tracks a user’s interactions with a website, transmits that information to defendant Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) without the patient’s consent.
This data can include appointment details, health conditions for which a user has been treated, test results, treatment status, treating physicians, medications, allergies and other personally identifiable information, the case states.
The “Jane Doe” plaintiff alleges that her privacy was violated when the information she entered into UCSF Medical Center’s My Chart and Dignity Health’s My Portal sites was shared with Meta Platforms, and violated again when that data was “used for profit” by Meta to “allow pharmaceutical and other companies to send her targeted advertising related to her medical conditions.” The woman says that after entering her information on the hospitals’ websites, she received targeted ads “on her Facebook page, in her email, and in her text messages.”
“These advertisements were tailored and directed to Plaintiff by Meta as part of Meta’s advertising business in which Meta profits from providing third parties with access to persons most likely to be interested in their products or services, otherwise known as the target audience,” the filing elaborates.
Third-party websites that utilize the Meta pixel are able to analyze a user’s experiences and activity on the site, and the information gained about users from the pixel can be used to target or retarget them with advertisements, the suit explains. For Meta, the pixel, unbeknownst to consumers, allows the company to surreptitiously gather their interactions with a website, including what they click on, what videos they watch and any personal information they might enter into the site, improving its ad-targeting capabilities, the case says.
According to the complaint, the Meta pixel is embedded on “30% of the top 80,000 most popular websites.” Alarmingly, the lawsuit says, the pixel is also found on sites that store and transmit sensitive medical data meant to stay private.
“For example, Meta Pixel is embedded on the websites of 33 of the top 100 hospitals in America and on password-protected patient portals of seven health systems, such as those of UCSF Medical Center and Dignity Health Medical Foundation.”
The lawsuit alleges Meta is aware that the user data it collects on the UCSF Medical Center and Dignity Health websites includes highly sensitive medical information yet, “in reckless disregard for patient privacy,” continues to collect, use and profit from it.
Although Meta claims to “hash” the personal information provided in patient portals, Meta in fact uses the hashed format “specifically to link Meta Pixel data to Facebook profiles,” the case claims.
The lawsuit looks to represent all persons in the United States whose user data—including health conditions, diagnoses, procedures, test results, treatment status, treating physician, medications, allergies and more—was collected through the Meta (Facebook) pixel.
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