My role


NHS Choices letting it all hang out with Facebook

The NHS Choices website has come under fire because the way it is set up allows third-parties like Facebook and Google to track visitors.

sample facebook 'like' buttonThe NHS has integrated its NHS Choices site into the Facebook Connect platform, so that surfers can 'like' pages on the NHS site and share content with their friends and contacts on Facebook - see the example on the right. But, says Mischa Tuffield of online privacy firm Garlik: 'The Like button is engineered such that even if it is not clicked, it still passes information about the user to Facebook, even if they are not logged into Facebook at the time of the visit.' Tuffield says Google can do something similar.

It was this catch-all capability that led to many geeks leaving or threatening to leave Facebook earlier this year. Some now use dedicated browsers or only log in from their mobile phone to avoid Facebook tracking every single site they visit. A safer alternative is to delete all Facebook cookies after you logout of Facebook.

Tuffield's solution is to  'treat the Like button like other online advertising tracking tools'. He says: 'if you are using the Firefox browser you can install the plugin called "Ad-blocker Plus", and you can configure it to block traffic to when visiting pages outside of the domain. This is the approach I take, which I wrote up a few months ago on my blog.'

Tom WatsonThe issue has been taken up by Labour MP Tom Watson MP, right. He wrote to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley earlier this week expressing 'concern that the NHS is allowing Google, Facebook, and others to track (users') browsing habits, regardless of the fact that people use the page to seek medical advice.' He went on: 'The NHS Choices website is used by members of the public in order to find out facts about ailments they may be suffering from and these illnesses could cause an individual embarrassment if the information was leaked.'

Whether the information is leaked or not, do you really want the Facebook corporation to access it and is it right that the NHS, either by ignorance or design, should allow it?


Page created on November 25th, 2010

Page updated on December 6th, 2010