Hidden Surveillance by Consumer Health Websites
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University of Western Ontario, Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS)
Jacquelyn Burkell, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean of Research (FIMS)
Alexandre Fortier, PhD student
Behavioural tracking presents a significant privacy risk to Canadians, particularly when their online behaviours reveal sensitive information that could be used to discriminate against them. This concern is particularly relevant in the context of online health information seeking, since searches can reveal details about health conditions and concerns that the individual may wish to keep private. The privacy threats are exacerbated because behavioural tracking mechanisms are largely invisible to users, and many are unaware of the strategies and mechanisms available to track online behaviour.
The goal of the project was to raise awareness of behavioural tracking and risk mitigation strategies by communicating the results of the research, and information about the risks of and responses to behavioural tracking, to three different groups: the academic community, Library and Information Science professionals, and the general public. This communication was carried out using a variety of mechanisms, including presentations, publications, public lectures, and an educational video. In addition, the research team provided to librarians, including health librarians, who are an important group of professional information intermediaries, education regarding behavioural tracking and associated risks. Armed with this education, librarians who recommend consumer health websites, whether they are in hospital or public libraries, will be better able to select privacy-respecting information resources for their clients, and they will also be better prepared to assist consumers to protect their own privacy while searching for health information through information literacy initiatives that address behavioural tracking.
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OPC Funded Project
This project received funding support through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The opinions expressed in the summary and report(s) are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Summaries have been provided by the project authors. Please note that the projects appear in their language of origin.
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