For Sale: Your private health information



ATLANTA - Your embarrassing private health information is for sale on the Internet, and marketers are making millions invading your privacy.
Channel 2 Action News spent $2,000 to see what information that money could buy – legally.

  The result was thousands of pages of sometimes embarrassing personal information.
Lists for sale on the Internet include people with bladder leakage, breast cancer, depression and diabetes. 
Have gas? It's not a secret. What about a drinking or drug problem? Your name, address, phone number and email address may be for sale.
As an experiment, Channel 2 Action News reporter John Bachman picked his own ZIP code. A data broker told him that within a few miles of Bachman's home, the broker had more than 3,000 names and addresses of people with bladder or bowel problems, hemorrhoids or erectile dysfunction. 
The cost? 20 cents a name.

Data brokers say they self-regulate, and Channel 2 found proof of that in many cases. Still, there is no law about who can buy most of this information. Bachman did not approach anyone with the more embarrassing problems, but did speak with people who suffer from arthritis, diabetes and allergies. 
Several agreed to go on camera.
Metro Atlanta resident Rena Karr told Bachman, "I was shocked, and actually a little frightened too. I mean, just to know. Who knows what and how much they know and how they know it, actually."
Another woman, Katherine, is a recent victim of identity theft. She was upset to find out her health information was for sale.
"I'm shocked. I'm shaking on the inside," Katherine told Bachman. "Just to know that people are doing this, it's amazing."
By now you may be wondering what data brokers are selling about you. You're out of luck.
"You don't have a legal right to see what they have collected. You don't have a legal right to collect it," said Georgia Tech professor Peter Swire, one of the country's leading privacy experts. 
"There's some lists that shouldn't be out there for public sale," he added.  Swire points to a list of addresses for domestic violence shelters and another list that sells the home addresses of police officers and troopers.
What about data that's just wrong? Data brokers say Tommy Mitchell has arthritis. Mitchell says that's not true.
Bachman asked Mitchell, “Do you have any idea where this kind of stuff might have been collected?"
"No I don't," Mitchell said.
Because consumers don't have any legal rights in all this, Mitchell has no way to get this mistake corrected.           
There’s no way for people like Katherine to avoid feeling victimized all over again.

"It's personal. These things that supposedly are confidential. And when they're putting it out like that, it just ruins your life, that's all I can say,” Katherine said.
The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee is investigating the practices of data brokers. The chairman called it "the dark side of American life."  
The Commerce Committee, The Federal Trade Commission and the General Accountability Office have all published reports on the issue.

Channel 2 Action News

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