FTC Offers Guidance on Protecting Privacy of Consumer, Health Data

TOPIC ALERT:

On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission released a report outlining a framework for protecting online privacy, including the privacy of personal health information, the New York Times reports (Vega/Wyatt, New York Times, 3/26).

About the Report

According to the report, titled "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policymakers," entities that handle personal information should provide consumers with the "option to decide what information is shared about them, and with whom" (Conn, Modern Healthcare, 3/26).

The report called for Congress to pass legislation regulating data brokers, which are entities that collect consumer information from online and offline sources (New York Times, 3/26). Data brokers often use Web tracking to gather information -- such as a consumer's demographics, purchasing habits and health-related search terms -- for marketing purposes (Sternstein, NextGov, 3/26).

The report also recommended:

  • Establishing a "do not track" function in Web browsers to let consumers opt out of having their online activity monitored;
  • Requiring businesses to be more transparent about how they collect and use consumer data; and
  • Allowing consumers to access information collected about them.

Implications for Health Data Privacy

The privacy framework proposed in FTC's report would not affect HIPAA-covered entities, Modern Healthcare reports.

However, HHS currently is working to update the HIPAA privacy rule to incorporate patient consent requirements and additional privacy protections (Modern Healthcare, 3/26).


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