Research and reports about the way telehealth companies track and monetize people's sensitive data have spurred a bipartisan group of senators to action.
The investigation was carried out by STAT, revealing that a number of telehealth firms give health information to ad giants like Google and Facebook, among others.
The results, published under the title, “Out of Control,” showed that out of 50 telehealth sites, only one was not sharing patient data using tracking tools provided by Big Tech behemoths.
Now Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Maria Cantwell, and Republicans Susan Collins and Cynthia Lummis want three of those companies – Monument, Workit Health, and Cerebral – to provide further information about the data deals.
They made this request in a letter that stressed that, given the nature of the information that's extremely personal and coming from patients, sharing it for targeted advertising could cause physical, psychological, or emotional harm.
The letter wants the three companies to disclose all third-parties they've given data to during the past three years, and provide details about the type of information shared.
While telehealth is becoming more popular and can improve access to “undeserved patient communities,” the senators noted – “this access should not come at the cost of exposing personal and identifiable information to the world's largest advertising ecosystems.”
The senators want answers to their questions by February 10, and specifically want to know if either of the three companies has given giant platforms information that could identify somebody as suffering from addiction, or a mental disorder.
This is relevant especially given that two of the three mentioned in the letter – Workit Health and Cerebral – can provide prescriptions for controlled substances. The ability of a telehealth company to do this is another negative effect of the pandemic rules, which allowed them to include this option in their offer of services to patients.
Regarding the type of information that is or was being shared, STAT said 35 out of 50 sites had trackers harvesting identifiable information like names, emails, and phone numbers, and that these trackers were sending data to “at least one tech company.”
The senators' initiative comes shortly after a $1.5 billion settlement reached between the Federal Trade Commission and GoodRx that shared data with Facebook, Google, and others for advertising purposes.