Meta is being sued for using health data to target advertisements.

A class-action lawsuit alleges that the parent corporation of Facebook, Meta, has been collecting sensitive health information from patients’ online medical portals for the purpose of targeted advertising.

The lawsuit (Opens in a new window) was submitted by an anonymous user named Jane Doe, who claims that after using the patient portals at The University of California, San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF) and Dignity Health, Meta started showing her tailored advertisements linked to her medical condition. The news was initially reported by BleepingComputer.

The case focuses on Facebook’s parent company’s Meta Pixel (Opens in a new window) advertising technology. Companies can incorporate the system as a little piece of JavaScript computer code on their websites. To determine whether users are actually clicking on Facebook ads, Meta Pixel tracks user conversions to such adverts.

Companies can use the service to observe what activities users are performing on a website, such as when they add something to their shopping cart or conduct a search. The lawsuit claims, however, that because user consent is never requested, the same capability can enable Meta to covertly record every user interaction with a website.

It is concerning because Meta Pixel is utilized on websites that are used to transmit and keep private, sensitive medical information. The case cites an investigation (Opens in a new window) from The Markup, which concentrated on the potential privacy violations of Meta Pixel back in June, and claims that, for instance, Meta Pixel is embedded on the websites of 33 of the top 100 hospitals in America.

The case continues by asserting that Metas’ pixel technology can gather details on a patient’s medical symptoms, diagnosis, and test results via the websites of medical practitioners. Additionally, at least seven different health systems’ password-protected patient portals are said to have the Pixel tool implanted in them.

The lawsuit claims that Meta continues to collect, use, and profit from patient data despite knowing that it contains extremely sensitive medical information in the user data it collects through its Pixel on the websites of healthcare defendants.

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In the case of Jane Doe, the user provided details regarding a knee and heart ailment on a medical website. According to the lawsuit, Facebook then allegedly started showing her advertisements about preventing joint discomfort and heart disease.

An inquiry for comment from Meta did not immediately receive a response. However, the business says (Opens in a new window) has measures in place to exclude private health data from its ad systems. However, a recent investigation (Opens in a new window) from The Markup discovered that when the Meta Pixel is embedded on a page, the filters can still gather obvious sexual health information.

Because the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects user health information, the class action lawsuit demands that Meta pay damages and stop collecting data (HIPAA).

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