Health insurance and your Web activity

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Health-insurance providers use your Internet browsing and purchasing history to determine eligibility and rates.

Chandler Givens, who is the CEO at TrackOff, which creates software that's said to keep your browsing activity private, says insurers buy that information from so-called data brokers to use it to set insurance premiums.

University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication analyzed 80,000 health-related Web pages to determine that 90 percent of the visits to such pages result in personal health information being leaked to third parties, including data brokers.

Timothy Libert, who is the author of the University of Pennsylvania analysis, says Google is a major source of the information that data brokers collect, given widespread use of Gmail and Google maps. “Google collects user information from 78 percent of pages,” Libert wrote.

Christian Bennefeld, who is the founder of eBlocker, is developing software to allow anonymous Internet surfing, says, “The key to the data is the email address. The data is usually bought in bulk from big data brokers. Each data set of an individual is categorized, so the insurance company can basically access the data using the email address of the applicant and calculate a risk score based on the categories. Based on the risk score, the rate is determined, or even the application gets declined.”

Bennefeld says he knows that Google isn’t selling data on an individual basis, but Google reserves the right to access profile data. (When you create a Google account and accept the terms and conditions, you consent to Google services accessing your personal information from your email and Web activity.)

Some recommend that consumers use software that keeps you anonymous when you browse the Internet. On first blush, we see some potential in such software, but we want to know more. Stay tuned.