Is Healthcare.gov Using Google to Spy on Shoppers?

January 25, 2015

Recent reports accuse the federal government of doing exactly what HIPAA prohibits: sending consumer data to private companies for sales and marketing.

According to an Associated Press report, the federal government may be doing the very thing HIPAA prohibits: quietly sending consumers' personal data to private companies that specialize in advertising and analyzing Internet data for performance and marketing.

Worse, the Healthcare.gov website expressly promises,"Healthcare.gov never collects information for commercial marketing or any purpose unrelated to our mission and goals."  

The administration did not explain how it ensures that companies were following the government's privacy and security policies. The fact that the federal government is not a "covered entity" under HIPAA, HITECH, or the Omnibus Rule, does not make the disclosure any less insulting.

The Obama administration says HealthCare.gov's connections to data firms were intended to help "improve the consumer experience." Oh really? You are doing it for the consumer?  Or is the federal government applying a simple rule of reason: "We make the rules, we don’t need a reason."

According to the AP, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), wrote to the administration, "This new information is extremely concerning, not only because it violates the privacy of millions of Americans, but because it may potentially compromise their security."

A former White House chief information officer, Theresa Payton, was more blunt in the AP report, saying, "You don't need all of that data to do customer service." Payton, who served under President George W. Bush, added, "We know hackers are just waiting at the door, salivating to get at this data."

A quote in the story from Mehdi Daoudi, CEO of Catchpoint Systems summed up the confusion, "Personally, I look at this ... and I don't know what is going on between the government and Facebook, and Google, and Twitter," said. "Why is that there?"

In a CNBC Report, Cooper Quintin, a staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group said, "I think that this could erode ... confidentiality when dealing with medical data and medical information"

This is a problem the Obama Administration does not need. If the reports turn out to be true, and the Obama Administration is using Healthcare.gov to spy on consumers while they shop for healthcare, this could become a very big issue during the next presidential election, especially among those running on a campaign of repealing Obamacare.