Facebook Like button and web analytics allow sites to track users

NHS sharing browsing habits with Google and Facebook

The NHS Choices website is allowing sites to track the browsing habits of visits on the site, according to a blog post by a British privacy researcher.

Mischa Tuffield, a developer with online identity firm Garlik, was looking into the Facebook ‘like’ button which allows Facebook to track the browsing habits of visits to the web site including those researching personal medical issues.

The issue relates to the way in which the Facebook Like button, which can be hosted by third party web sites, tracks user activity and feeds it back to the company so that it may better target advertising. Facebook was just one of the third companies being fed information from the NHS site according to Tuffield.

“In short there are four third-party, advertising/tracking companies which are informed every time a user visits one of the “conditions pages” on the NHS Choices website,” Tuffield wrote in a blog post.

Two of the firms being sent data are web analytics companies, Web Trends and Google Analytics. Tuffied voiced the opinion that analytics information for sites such as NHS Choices ought not to be outsourced to third parties.

“If this was a website about pub reviews these third-party services would be acceptable, but due to the nature of the information on the Choices website, I feel the NHS should be hosting their own analytics code.”
Labour MP Tom Watson subsequently wrote to the Health Minister Andrew Lansley to voice his concern.

“I understand the demands to offer government service online but this should not be achieved at the price of privacy. I urge you to take steps to ensure that third party websites should not have access to such information,” wrote Watson.

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