Now this is downright creepy. The Wall Street Journal’s tech site Digits notifies us that “Data Broker Removes Rape-Victims List After Journal Inquiry.” As the headline states, the list has now been removed, but yikes! Medbase200 offered this tragic roster for sale, along with ones listing victims of domestic violence, HIV/AIDS patients, and “peer pressure sufferers”, until an inquiry from the Wall Street Journal prompted them to remove them all. This looks like a very large hole in our HIPPA protections.
Writer Elizabeth Dwoskin reports:
“The rape-victims list was first disclosed by Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, at a Senate hearing Wednesday about the data-broker industry. Ms. Dixon could not be reached for comment after her testimony.
The hearing was part of a Senate Commerce Committee investigation into the data-broker industry. In a report Wednesday, the committee said marketers maintain databases that purport to track and sell the names of people who have diabetes, depression, and osteoporosis, as well as how often women visit a gynecologist. The report said individuals don’t have a right to know what types of data the companies collect, how people are placed in categories, or who buys the information.
Medbase200, a unit of Integrated Business Services Inc., sells lists of health-care providers and of people purportedly suffering from ailments such as diabetes and arthritis to pharmaceutical companies.”
I will leave alone for now the whole issue of who owns an individual’s health data, because that is a rant for another day. Sam Tartamella, president of the parent company here, seems to have been unaware of what Madebase200 was up to; he denied the list’s existence until presented by the Journal with a link to the division’s “rape sufferers” page.
Why, in the name of all that is holy, did the company offer these mailing lists for sale? Apparently, the cash they could make by vending the vulnerable trumped any sense of human decency. At least the target market was not predatory individuals (though is it a stretch to think such creatures could gain access?) Rather, it was pharmaceutical companies who could drop just $79 and get information on 1,000 folks who had been through a specific hardship. I can only imagine, but I think if I were in any of those categories, every instance of targeted marketing would be like a kick to the gut. Not to mention the distressing questions; how did they know? who else knows? These unanswered questions could haunt someone for years, since “individuals don’t have a right to know” what these companies have done with our most personal information.
Welcome to the dark side of the data-driven society.
Cynthia Murrell, January 14, 2014