Meta facing some Senate scrutiny on Meta Pixel’s health data collection–and how it’s used

A member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) has requested that Facebook’s parent, Meta, account for healthcare information that it has collected as a result of the Meta Pixel being used on leading hospitals’ websites as an ad tracker. During a hearing, Meta chief product officer Chris Cox was questioned about Meta’s having and using the data and responded, “Not to my knowledge.” According to this latest report in The Markup, Cox will follow up with a written response to the committee.

The June investigation by The Markup and STAT [TTA 17 June] investigated how these snippets of code, routinely used by developers to track website performance, could be sending to Facebook through online appointment schedulers and patient portals highly sensitive patient information. As we noted then from the article, “None of the hospitals using the Pixel have patient consent forms permitting the transmission of individual patient information, nor business associate agreements (BAAs) that permit this data’s collection.” Facebook’s defense is that it does not use this information in any identifiable way.  

Developments have moved quickly since then. According to The Markup, 28 of the 33 hospitals in the initial report have removed the Meta Pixel from their appointment schedulers or blocked it from sending patient information to Facebook. At least six of the seven health systems had also removed the pixels from their patient portals. In August, Novant Health notified patients of a code misconfiguration of their Meta Pixel tracker that may lead to unauthorized disclosure of their personal health information (PHI) [TTA 19 Aug]. North Carolina’s attorney general may investigate. Five class action lawsuits have been filed by patients, including against Novant and Medstar [TTA 23 June].

It may be that Meta may have a very hard time ‘splainin’ to Sen. Ossoff how the data flow and is used for any given account, based upon their own internal engineers’ assessments in a leaked 2021 privacy memo. But given Meta’s and the founder’s pull in the Federal government, one wonders how far all of this will go. Your Editor is not optimistic. TTA’s articles on Meta Pixel

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