For Sale Cheap: Your Private Medical Information

Have you ever gone to a party and had the urge to peek inside your host’s medicine cabinet? (Neither have I!) Imagine what could be of interest in there. For those nosy souls who are tempted, you don’t even have to attend a party! It’s all for sale online. Bloomberg published an article about how Big Data is snooping in your medicine cabinet and selling the information to marketers. Here’s the gory details:

Dan Abate doesn’t have diabetes nor is he aware of any obvious link to the disease. Try telling that to data miners.

The 42-year-old information technology worker’s name recently showed up in a database of millions of people with “diabetes interest” sold by Acxiom Corp. (ACXM), one of the world’s biggest data brokers. One buyer, data reseller Exact Data, posted Abate’s name and address online, along with 100 others, under the header Sample Diabetes Mailing List. It’s just one of hundreds of medical databases up for sale to marketers.

The type of information and databases peoples’ names are showing up on would be amusing if it wasn’t so serious. Some database lists for sale include diagnosis, including cancer, depression, autism, attention deficit disorder, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrigs disease. One directory is called “Aching and Ailing,” another directory is called “Suffering Seniors.” There’s a lot of stuff that Suffering Seniors apparently want to buy! Here’s the promo:

Suffering Seniors is the perfect list for mailers targeting the ailing elderly who will be most responsive to their direct mail campaigns.

These senior citizens with ailments are perfect prospects for a variety of offers including health and medical products and services, prescription and over-the-counter medications, pain relievers, aging, holistic and non-traditional remedies, self-improvement, beauty and cosmetics, insurance, retirement, assisted living, financial services, subscriptions, catalogs, books, magazines, credit cards, cable TV and Internet, investments, fundraising campaigns, clubs and associations, support groups, counseling, apparel and accessories, computer software and hardware, peripherals, telecommunications and wireless, household goods and furnishings, home improvement, security systems, lawn and garden care, music and entertainment, electronics, automobiles, travel, nostalgic items and collectibles, antiques, and much more.

Names tend to sell for $0.15 cents apiece, which can be broken down in to income, geographic locations and ethnicity for an additional fee. The data comes from a variety of sources, including retail purchases, registrations, sweepstakes, surveys (never fill out a survey online. They don’t want your opinion; they want your information).

Comments (4)

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  1. Big Truck Joe says:

    How is this not a HIPAA violation if involving the misuse of protected health information of the patient? If Acxiom came about this information illegally or fraudulently they should be held accountable. My assumption is the patient or the individual consumer filled out their information somewhere along the line on the Internet or by mail order campaign or by responding to a late night TV ad and that’s how Axciom got their name and ailments. Otherwise it’s in easily prosecutable case for HIPAA violations,FTC violations or other Privacy infractions. I think there’s more to the story than Bloomberg would have you think.

    By the way if you want to catch people who snoop in your medicine cabinet at parties – before the party, open up the top of the medicine cabinet and put in a marble at a time until it’s half-full. Then shut it tight and listen for a crashing of marbles when somebody goes to the bathroom. Get em every time!

    • Devon Herrick says:

      It’s not HIPAA violation since it is consumer data. This could include your accidental Google search for diabetes (when you meant to read about Archimedes). The coupon you used to purchase aspirin at Target makes you appear to be both a cheapskate and like you have arthritis. Your filling out a survey online (because they offered you a 1-in-1 million chance to win a lifetime supply of diapers) will probably stay on your database record until you need adult diapers. That $1 rebate form on the athletes food spray probably was collecting information on you that will cause your health insurer to declare all foot issues as pre-existing conditions. The hangover search on Google pegged you as a drinker. You will now be inundated by ads for Jagermeister.

      Of course, the cookies in your computer are there for other firms to harvest and add those searches to their database about you. I’ve noticed how if I search for one product, I seem to get banner advertisements for THAT product for days on end.

  2. Perry says:

    I guess all’s fair in love, war and the internet.

  3. Big Truck Joe says:

    Unless one is totally unconnected, disconnected and or malconnected, as far as your privacy is concerned – the genie is out of bottle, the horse is out of the barn, the toothpaste is out of the tube – and can never go back. information is gold and as long as there is greed in the world,this gold will be sought – either ethically or otherwise.