Dual lawsuits allege ads were tailored to patients based on their health information
Two lawsuits allege that Facebook parent company Meta Platforms, Inc. partnered with health systems to serve up ads based on patient medical information collected from the portals of the health systems’ web sites.
Meta Pixel is a tool allowing third-party web sites to measure and grow audiences for ad campaigns. The suits allege that this tool was employed by these health systems to collect personally identifiable information based on patient visits to those web sites.
“When Meta Pixel is incorporated, unbeknownst to users and without their consent, Meta gains the ability to surreptitiously gather every user interaction with the website ranging from what a user clicks on to the personal information entered on a website,” states a July 25 suit filed in the Northern District of California on behalf of patient Jane Doe. “Meta aggregates this data against all websites. Meta benefits from this information because it improves its advertising network, including its machine-learning algorithms and its ability to identify and target users.”
The tool allowed data collected about the patient via UCSF Medical Center and Dignity Health patient portals to enable Meta to send her targeted advertising related to her medical conditions, the suit alleges.
In an earlier June 17 suit, filed in the same court on behalf of patient John Doe, a patient of the Medstar Health System in Baltimore accused Meta of harvesting similar data from the patient portal, without obtaining authorizations for sharing of personally identifiable information, therefore violating HIPAA.
“Facebook knowingly receives patient data—including patient portal usage information— from hundreds medical providers in the United States that have deployed the Facebook Pixel on their web properties,” according to the June 17 suit. “To date, through experts, plaintiffs have identified at least 664 hospital systems or medical provider web properties where Facebook has received patient data via the Facebook Pixel.”
The court will have to decide if the suits can be considered with class action status, as requested by the filing attorneys.
Scott Mace is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders.