Meta sued for secretly harvesting patient data for targeted advertising

Facebook-parent Meta, the UCSF Medical Center, and the Dignity Health Medical Foundation are the targets of a new class action lawsuit in the United States, alleging that the defendants are illegally collecting patients’ sensitive health information for targeted advertising.

‘Jane Doe’ filed the lawsuit in the Northern District of California on behalf of herself and everyone else in a similar situation.

According to the complaint [pdf], websites of 33 of the top 100 hospitals in the US, as well as, password-protected web portals of seven healthcare systems, including UCSF Medical Center and Dignity Health Medical Foundation, have included Meta’s Pixel monitoring tool, which gathers patients’ data and shares it with Facebook, in violation of state and federal regulations.

Patients input highly sensitive information about themselves on these portals, including their diseases, physicians, prescription medications, and more.

Meta Pixel is a snippet of code that can be embedded on a third-party website to track users’ activities as they browse the website. Each page a person views, the buttons they click, and the details they enter into the portal may all be tracked and recorded by Meta Pixel.

The complaint claims that even if a person doesn’t have a Facebook account, data collection takes place for the user. For Facebook members, the gathered information is linked to their account for a closer correlation.

Patients are not informed about the data collection by the hospitals or Meta. They are not asked for their consent, and there is visible indication of this process, the complaint says.

In several instances described in court documents, patients received targeted ads on Facebook and their emails, promoting medical services without any scientific backing.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs felt violated since they had never consented to the acquisition of their private medical information.

The lawsuit seeks claims for relief relevant to the privacy invasion, violation of medical information confidentiality, unjust enrichment, Computer Data Access and Fraud Act (CDAFA), as well as the Federal Wiretap Act.

Kenya threatens Facebook ban over hate speech

The lawsuit against Meta comes as Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) gave the company seven days to cease allowing hate speech on its Facebook platform or risk a ban.

Meta stated last week it has been preparing for Kenya’s 2022 election over the past year with the help of a dedicated team that has been collaborating closely with local election officials and trusted partners.

However, advocacy groups Global Witness and Foxglove alleged on Friday that Facebook had failed to identify hate speech advertisements in Kenya’s two official languages—Swahili and English—and approved advertisements that were specifically intended to incite ethnic violence in the nation.

“Despite the high risk of violence ahead of the Kenyan national election next month, Facebook approved hate speech ads promoting ethnic violence and calling for rape, slaughter and beheading,” Global Witness said.

It said that their finding is consistent with patterns they found in Ethiopia and Myanmar “but for the first time also raises serious questions about Facebook’s content moderation capabilities in English”.

The NCIC said its internal results were corroborated by the findings of the Global Witness/Foxglove tests.

Danvas Makori, NCIC commissioner, said during a briefing that the social media giant had “allowed themselves to be a vector of hate speech and incitement, misinformation and disinformation.”

“Suspending ads and rolling out ‘break glass’ measures are steps Facebook can take to reduce the risk to the Kenyan election today. That’s what we’re calling for,” Crider added, citing the platform’s actions after the US insurrection on Jan 6, 2021.

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