Madigan calls on popular health websites to address privacy concerns

By Bryan Cohen | Jul 12, 2013

CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) -- Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Friday called on the administrators of multiple popular health-related websites to address privacy concerns over the collection of consumer health information online.

Madigan sent letters to officials at Mercola.com, Health.com, About.com, MayoClinic.com, MensHealth.com, Drugs.com, WeightWatchers.com and WebMD.com to request they disclose the extent to which their sites collect the health information of users, how the companies store the information, and whether outside companies are given access to the information.

"Maintaining privacy in a digital world is one of the most critical consumer protection challenges we now face," Madigan said in a statement. "While websites can offer important information, the use of the Internet to research health-related issues also raises troubling privacy concerns."

Madigan sent the letter after growing concern that health information, which would be protected if disclosed in a standard medical setting, could be captured, shared and sold online when users enter information into a website.

Website disclosure policies about the extent to which information is shared or collected is often located deep in privacy policies not found on the main pages of the websites.

In a recent study by the Pew Research Centers, 72 percent of adults in the U.S. used the Internet to research health information.

As more people access health-related information online, Madigan said it is important that they understand what happens to their shared information.

The attorney general requested that each company provide her office with a privacy policy and information on how the companies gather, store and release private information to third parties.

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