People hope, and want to believe, that searching for health and medical information online is private and protected.  That likely is a false and dangerous hope.

Pam Baker wrote an article highlighting recent research into this very issue (www.nuviun.com; “The gaping privacy hole in healthcare data is not where you think”; March 16th).  Her article discusses the companies and entities that are tracking and analyzing online and mobile applications used by individuals for researching medical and health issues.  She reports that this information is often mined by 3rd parties.

What is especially important is the research by Mr. Timothy Libert about which Ms. Baker wrote.  Mr. Libert is a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania.  He analyzed over 80,000 webpages on healthcare websites and found that “nine out of ten visits result in personal health information being leaked to third parties, including online advertisers and data brokers.”  Mr. Libert’s research results were shared with Brian Merchant on Mr. Merchant’s Motherboard blog.

But it’s not just data miners who use this healthcare information.  As reported, it’s also such reputable groups as governments, non-profits and universities.

Mr. Libert’s wrote about his research results in an article titled “Privacy Implications of Health Information Seeking on the Web”.  It can be found in the March 15th issue of “Communication of the ACM.”   There was a February 15th press release about Mr. Libert’s research and article.  That press release is titled “Your Privacy Online: Health Information at Serious Risk of Abuse” and can be found at http://www.asc.upenn.edu.

Mr. Libert’s research underscores the dangers for individuals by leaked health information. There can be embarrassment, job and/or credit discrimination and identity theft.

His findings remind all of us to be especially careful about our online research into such a sensitive area as health.