October 3, 2022

Facebook’s parent company Meta And major US hospitals violated medical privacy laws with a tracking tool that sends health information to Facebook, according to two proposed class action lawsuits.

The lawsuits, filed in the Northern District of California in June and July, focus on the tracking tool Meta Pixel. The tool can be installed on websites to provide analytics on Facebook and Instagram ads. It also collects information about how people click and enter information on these websites.

A survey by The Marking in early June found that 33 of the top 100 hospitals in the United States use the Meta Pixel on their websites. In seven hospitals, password-protected patient portals were installed. The investigation found that the tool was sending Facebook information about patients’ health status, doctor appointments and drug allergies.

In one of the lawsuits, a patient says her medical information was sent to Facebook by the Meta Pixel tool on the patient portals of UC San Francisco and Dignity Health (those hospitals are also defendants in the lawsuit). The patient was then served ads targeting her heart and knees, the lawsuit states.

The other lawsuit, from a patient at MedStar Health System in Baltimore, Maryland, alleges that at least 664 health care providers have sent medical data to Facebook through Meta Pixel.

Under the HIPAA medical privacy law, healthcare organizations need patient consent to share personally identifiable health information with outside groups. Meta says it requires teams using the Meta Pixel to have the right to share data before sending that data to Facebook, and that it filters out sensitive health data. The lawsuits allege that Meta knowingly fails to implement these policies and that place the Pixel on the websites of healthcare organizations, even though you know it will collect personal health information.

Lawsuits must be certified as class actions by a judge before they can proceed. If either is successful, it could compensate on behalf of all Facebook users whose medical providers used Meta Pixel.

You can read the full complaints below.

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