Your Privacy Is Protected Only if You Are Really Sick

Saul Hansell has an interesting blog in the NY Times today:

The advertising trade group that proposed that people with cancer deserve more privacy protections than those with heart disease has adopted a new version of its guidelines for how ad networks use data about Internet users.

It is no longer trying to distinguish between different diseases. But it is drawing another line that may appear equally arbitrary: Whether people’s Internet surfing indicate they actually have a disease, rather than being simply curious about a medical topic.

“General interest in a condition is not sensitive data,” said J. Trevor Hughes, executive director of the Network Advertising Initiative.

Mr. Hughes said the new guidelines, which take effect later this month, impose tough protections on information gathered, for example “on a community page for prostate cancer sufferers” because anyone visiting such a page could be assumed to have the disease. But no such protections need be accorded to someone reading a Web page that simply describes the symptoms or treatment of prostate cancer. The reader of such a page might be researching the condition of a friend or relative. And thus it would not be intrusive if that person was shown a series of ads about the same disease, Mr. Hughes explained.

Read more here.

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