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US boosts privacy protection on health insurance website

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 9, 2015

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Responding to criticism from civil liberties advocates, the Obama administration said Friday it has strengthened consumer privacy protections on the government’s health insurance website as a new sign-up season nears.

HealthCare.gov CEO Kevin Counihan said in a blog post that the Web page will have a new ‘privacy manager’ that lets consumers opt out of embedded connections to third-party advertising, analytics and social media sites.

In addition, if a consumer has enabled the “Do Not Track” setting on their browser, the government will automatically honor their preferences as relates to receiving digital advertising from HealthCare.gov.

The administration originally had said embedded third-party connections helped consumers have a better overall experience on HealthCare.gov. But the Associated Press reported earlier this year that the links could also result in personal information – including age, income, ZIP code, whether a person smokes and if a woman is pregnant – being sent to technology firms involved in marketing and advertising.

A civil liberties group that previously had criticized the administration said the latest changes show a strong commitment to protecting privacy. Still, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said there’s room for improvement. Administration officials said they are open to that.

“We applaud HealthCare.gov’s decision to support ‘Do Not Track’ and give their users strong privacy controls,” said Cooper Quintin, a staff technologist with the foundation. “We think that this is a great first step (and) would be thrilled to see more organizations, both public and private, follow their lead.”

HealthCare.gov’s 2016 sign-up season starts Nov. 1.

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