Online pharmacies: how safe is your data?

When you buy products from an online pharmacy, you want to know that your data is safe. But, according to a recent investigation, 12 of the biggest drugstores in the US are sharing their customers’ data with Big Tech firms. 

The investigation was carried out by The Markup and KFF Health News and found that website trackers were collecting data on what people purchased. 

Albertsons, Costco, CVS, Food Lion, Giant, Kroger, Publix, Rite Aid Sam’s Club, Stop & Shop, Walgreens, and Walmart are all believed to be sharing private information with companies like Meta, Google, and Microsoft for advertising and analytical purposes. 

Furthermore, among the items in question were many of a sensitive nature, like HIV tests, pregnancy tests, Plan B emergency contraceptives, and prenatal vitamins. 

The authors of the report explained: “Supermarket giant Kroger, for instance, informed Meta, Bing, Twitter, Snapchat, and Pinterest when a shopper added Plan B to the cart, and informed Google and [social media platform] Nextdoor … that a shopper had visited the page for the item. 

Walmart informed Google’s advertising service when a shopper browsed the page of an HIV test, and Pinterest when that shopper added it to the cart.”

The investigation found that the companies were frequently changing their tracking and there were signs that some of the companies were taking steps to restrict it for sensitive products. For example, the Walgreens website blocked some trackers for Plan B and HIV tests. 

Walgreens later told The Markup and KFF Health News that it would make sure any remaining browsing data related to reproductive health would be deleted as soon as possible. 

It’s likely that the FTC will look into the information, as the collecting and sharing of private data is becoming a big concern for consumers. 

“Digital health companies and mobile apps should not cash in on consumers’ extremely sensitive and personally identifiable health information, said the FTC’s Samuel Levine. “The FTC is serving notice that it will use all of its legal authority to protect American consumers’ sensitive data from misuse and illegal exploitation.” 

In the meantime, you can protect yourself by unchecking the boxes for “cookie preferences”, rather than just accepting them without reading. You can also check your browser settings, as most browsers have safety options like “Do Not Track” available.

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