NEWS25 November 2010

MP raises NHS web tracking issues with Health Secretary

Data analytics UK

UK— Labour MP Tom Watson has written to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley about the use of Google Analytics and the Facebook ‘Like’ button on the NHS Choices health information website.

Watson has asked Lansley to make the decision to share information about visitor behaviour with third parties opt-in rather than opt-out.

“I understand the demands to offer government services online but this should not be achieved at the price of privacy,” he writes.

Lansley has yet to respond.

Watson took up the issue following a blog post by web developer Mischa Tuffield, of online identity protection firm Garlik, which explained how Google Analytics and Webtrends were being used to track behaviour on the NHS site, while data on which web pages were accessed was sent to Facebook as part of the ‘Like’ functionality.

Tuffield questioned whether it was appropriate for the NHS to be sharing such information with third parties, given that members of the public visit the site to look up medical conditions they may prefer to keep private.

The NHS Choices privacy policy states that no personally identifying information is collected as part of its web analytics integration, although Facebook users who are logged in while visiting the site will have their user IDs tied to information about which pages they access on Choices whether they click the ‘Like’ button or not.

Responding to Tuffield’s post, a Facebook spokesperson said: “If a site is using a Facebook plugin such as the Like button, and you are logged in to Facebook when you visit that site, you will see the total number of ‘Likes’ and whether any of your friends have also liked the same page, giving you a personalised experience.

“You can only ever see the information relevant to you and information that others have chosen to make public. The fact that you had visited the page wouldn’t be displayed to anyone on the web page unless you have actively clicked on the Like button, not just if you visited the site. If you never want to see this functionality on other websites then you can easily turn off Facebook Platform in your privacy settings.”