The first thing that many people do when they observe anything from a minor skin blemish to a killer headache is to look up their medical concern online. This could prove to be a mistake – not only for your sanity, but for your online security as well.
Firstly, if you ask your doctor, he will probably dissuade you form googling medical symptoms. The information you find will often have unnecessarily frightening aspects that will only make you anxious and scared.
Furthermore, googling illnesses and learning about them at websites like WebMD outs you on the radar of several different types of tracking software. Even reputable sites like the Mayo Clinic farm out search data to third parties, which in turn sell your data to other companies. As a nice addition to your keyword search data, these data brokers might decide to find your personal finance information as well, making you an even juicier target for advertisers.
Tim Libert, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, notes that “Experian is a data broker well known for selling credit scores – which include information on bankruptcies…Academic research by Senator Elizabeth Warren has shown that over 60 percent of bankruptcies are medical-related. Given that I found Experian tracking users on thousands of health-related web pages, it is entirely possible the company not only knows which individuals went bankrupt for medical reasons, but when they first went online to learn about their illness as well. In essence Experian can follow an individual from her first sneeze to her final unpaid hospital bill.”
While these ideas remain at the level of educated speculation, you might want to start being more selective about the medical information you inadvertently provide online.