Patients sue WakeMed, Aurora Advocate over data collection by Meta’s Pixel tool

WakeMed Health and Aurora Advocate Health patients filed lawsuits after being notified of a possible data scraping via Meta’s Pixel tool. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

WakeMed Health and Hospitals and Aurora Advocate Health are both facing patient lawsuits over two separate notices of violation related to possible deletion of data through the use of Pixel on its hospital and patient-facing websites. The two separate lawsuits were filed Oct. 31.

As reported by SC Media, WakeMed notified 495,000 patients and Attorney Aurora notified 3 million people that their data was inadvertently shared with Meta and other third-party vendors due to Pixel usage on their respective websites. Novant ACE sent a similar notice to 1.3 million patients in June, following two reports alleging the Meta Pixel tool was scraping hospital data.

Meta is already facing similar lawsuits from patients over these reports. The company denied receiving protected health information from its pixel tool.

The infringement notices explained that the tool was installed on these sites to understand how patients and others interact with the websites, to measure and evaluate trends, and the preferences of patients using their sites. The data involved interactions with the websites, in particular for users simultaneously logged into Google or Facebook accounts.

Once WakeMed and Aurora Advocate learned of the alleged data scraping, they launched investigations into the use of Pixels on their sites and found that the tracker disclosed certain protected health information “under specific circumstances to specific suppliers”.

However, the lawsuit alleges that these providers knew, or should have known, of the data sharing.

The WakeMed filing shows that the health system installed the Pixel tool as early as 2018 as part of a campaign to connect more patients to its patient portal, which “involved Facebook ads and a Meta…Pixel placed on the site Web WakeMed Health to help monitor how patients use its website and the effectiveness of its outreach programs.

The lawsuit claims the Pixel was configured to “capture and enable the transmission of private information to Meta from the WakeMed website and MyChart portal.” WakeMed disabled and removed the Pixel in June 2022, likely after the two Meta Tool investigative reports were published.

WakeMed confirmed the unauthorized disclosure after its own investigation, which confirmed the disclosure to Meta and Facebook. But the lawsuit argues the disclosure was “intentional.”

The lawsuit also disputes the October disclosure, saying the notice should have arrived soon. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, notices of violation must be sent within 60 days. But it’s unclear when forensic examinations by Aurora Advocate and WakeMed first uncovered the disclosure.

Health systems are each accused of failing to implement adequate and reasonable measures to protect the confidentiality of data, of failing to take steps to prevent unauthorized disclosure, and of failing to “follow protocols, policies and applicable, required and appropriate procedures regarding the securing of private data”. Information.”

The patients are asking for “an injunction and other equitable relief”. It should be clearly noted that the so-called “actual harm” alleged by the patients is the “diminishment of the value of [their] private information”, in addition to “loss of time, boredom, interference and inconvenience” and “anxiety, emotional distress and heightened concerns about loss of privacy”.

On the face of it, the lawsuit appears to be part of an increasingly concerning trend in the healthcare industry. Healthcare compliance stakeholders have warned that breach prosecutions in the sector have increasingly become modern ambulance lawsuits, even after the June 2021 Supreme Court ruling affirming that breach victims must provide evidence of concrete harm to pursue these cases.

Despite the ruling, these lawsuits have actually increased in recent years. A handful have been dismissed due to lack of prejudice, while many are settled out of court after years of mediation.

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