Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

First, do no harm

Posted by Charles II on February 25, 2015

Gregg Levine, Al-Jazeera:

Perhaps it will not come as a big surprise to learn that the highly trafficked, for-profit medical information site WebMD keeps track of your search terms and then makes some of the information available to third-party vendors. It’s kind of like what the term “for profit” means. But how about one of the other top hits for health-related searches, the Centers for Disease Control? That’s a non-profit government agency — they don’t provide information to marketing interests, right?

Wrong.

Just the thing we want for people who have medical conditions which may endanger the rest of us– a reason to fear that their privacy will be compromised. What is wrong with the CDC (not to mention Mayo and other for-profit sites of institutions that pretend to be engaged in the practice of medicine)?

One Response to “First, do no harm”

  1. The article itself tells us why:

    But it also means something similar is happening when you look up something on what seem like more secure or, at least, less nakedly capitalist sites like the Mayo Clinic, Planned Parenthood or, yes, the CDC. “This isn’t because [any of those places] is intending to do anything nefarious,” writes Merchant, “it’s just because they’ve installed convenient free software.”

    Motherboard explains it like this: “Let’s say you make a search for ‘herpes.’ Plugging that query into a search engine will return a list of results. Chances are, whatever site you choose to click on next will send information not just to the server of the intended site — say, the Centers for Disease Control, which maintains the top search result from Google — but to companies that own the elements installed on the page.”

    In other words, it’s because the government, except in very rare instances, isn’t allowed to do much in-house computer coding, much less web design, so they use off-the-shelf stuff for pretty much everything nowadays because they can’t afford to have real coders, or so they’re led to believe.

    Here’s an example of the penny-wise, pound-foolish thinking engendered by this (and by paranoia). Several government agencies used to allow for employees to access their government email accounts over the web, using non-government devices. This was stopped some years back when it was decided that, rather than permanently hire a few dozen programmers to monitor each webmail site, it was better to give BlackBerries to a chosen few for around $400 each every year (upgrades, you know), plus $60 a month for each user account. Let’s say that you’re a middling-sized agency of around, oh, 10,000 persons, 2,000 of which are given BlackBerries. That works out to $800,000 a year just for the BlackBerries, plus $1,440,000 a year for the subscriptions, which gives us a grand total of $2,240,000. That amount of money could hire a tech team that could create a top-flight secure webmail site and still have lots left over for pizza. (This huge expense is driving the BYOD push, but the agencies doing it haven’t yet realized that in order for BYOD to work, the work websites and other connections that are made to the outside world need to be monitored assiduously by boatloads of techies.)

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