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Lawsuit accuses Florida´s Palm Beach County hospital network of sharing patients' private data with Facebook parent company

Ron Hurtibise, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Palm Beach Health Network has become the latest health provider accused of illegally sharing identities and private health information of its patients with the social media company Meta, owner of Facebook.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach says the health network’s websites share code with Meta that enables patients to be targeted with advertising on Facebook based on “highly sensitive personal information” they share.

It names as defendants the Palm Beach Health Network Physicians Group, doing business as Palm Beach Health Network, and Palm Beach Gardens Community Hospital, doing business as Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.

Palm Beach Health Network is the largest health care network in Palm Beach County, the suit states. It includes a large multi-specialty physician group, ambulatory surgery centers, outpatient diagnostic facilities, and six hospital and care centers, including Delray Medical Center, Good Samaritan Medical Center, Palm Beach Children’s Hospital, St. Mary’s Medical Center, West Boca Medical Center and Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.

The network, according to the lawsuit, has “disregarded the privacy rights of their patients who used their web properties by intentionally, willfully, recklessly and/or negligently failing to implement adequate and reasonable measures to ensure that the users’ personally identifiable information and protected health information was safeguarded.”

Andrew Lofholm, spokesman for the network, said on Thursday, “We are not commenting on that,” referring to the lawsuit.

 

The suit claims that the network installed Facebook’s Meta Pixel and other invisible third-party tracking technology on its websites to intercept patients’ information “with the express purpose” of disclosing the information to Meta and other third parties.

Meta encourages businesses to install its tracking code and does not offer any tools that allow users “to opt out of such extensive tracking,” the suit states, adding, “even the most sophisticated users who enable cookie blockers cannot avoid having their information tracked through the various Meta tracking tools.”

The practice violates the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as well as state and federal law, the suit claims.

The technology collects patient data regardless of whether they have a Facebook account, the suit states. “Facebook maintains ‘shadow profiles’ on users without Facebook accounts and links information collected via the Pixel to the user’s real-world identity using their shadow profile,” it says.

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