When you get an upset stomach, have the sniffles or are just feeling under the weather, what do you do? If you're like nearly three-quarters of Americans, you turn to the Internet for help. Websites like WebMD might help you find out what's wrong before you head to the doctor, but they could also be sharing your health information with tons of third-party websites, from Google to credit bureaus.
It turns out that when you search for different sicknesses and diseases online, odds are the website you visit is sharing your search information with other companies. Researcher Tim Libert created a software called webXray to take a look at searches like this. He searched about 2,000 sicknesses and looked at the top 50 search results for each one.
He found the results startling: a full 91 percent of the pages made what are known as third-party requests to outside companies. That means when you search for “cold sores,” for instance, and click the highly ranked “Cold Sores Topic Overview WebMD” link, the website is passing your request for information about the disease along to one or more (and often many, many more) other corporations.
What's even scarier is that in 70% of cases, the info that these websites were transmitting to third parties included specific information about the disease or problem he was searching about.