How Private are Proprietary PHRs?

March 7, 2007

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, not  very private.  The article title tells it all, “Why Marketers want to see inside your medical cabinet.”  They specifically cite WebMD which has just released a PHR supported by an advertising model.  Such sites may protect your privacy until you click on a targeted ad (based on drug and diagnostic information you have entered) and then once you have clicked through and request a coupon, you have given someone your identity tied to a diagnosis or a drug, the goldmine for advertisers. The conclusion of the authors, which I agree with, is that PHRs should be  free of advertising or that consumers should be advised against using PHRs with targeted advertising.  Government certification of PHRs should include such protections.

Authors are: Joseph Turow is a professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Niche Envy: Marketing Discrimination in the Digital Age.” Robert Gellman is a privacy and information policy consultant in Washington, D.C. Judith Turow is an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson
University Hospital.

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