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Facebook Is Receiving Sensitive Medical Information From Hospital Websites
A tracking tool installed on many hospitals’ websites has been collecting patients’ sensitive health information — including details about their medical conditions, prescriptions and doctor’s appointments — and sending it to Facebook.
The Markup tested the websites of Newsweek’s top 100 hospitals in America. On 33 of them, we found the tracker, called the Meta Pixel, sending Facebook a packet of data whenever a person clicked a button to schedule a doctor’s appointment. The data is connected to an IP address — an identifier that’s like a computer’s mailing address and can generally be linked to a specific individual or household — creating an intimate receipt of the appointment request for Facebook.
Former regulators, health data security experts and privacy advocates who reviewed The Markup’s findings said the hospitals in question may have violated the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The law prohibits covered entities like hospitals from sharing personally identifiable health information with third parties like Facebook, except when an individual has expressly consented in advance or under certain contracts.
St. Louis Teachers Sue Over School District Vaccine Mandate
St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported:
More than 20 teachers and staff members from St. Louis Public Schools have sued the district’s leaders for suspending or firing them for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
The St. Louis School Board adopted a vaccine mandate last fall for all staff unless they had a medical or religious exemption. The 22 employees suing the district were denied religious exemptions and placed on unpaid leave or fired last October, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court.
All but two of the staff members were granted the vaccine exemptions in January and allowed to return to their jobs. The group, which includes teachers, substitutes, aides, safety officers, a social worker and a custodian, is asking for three months of back pay along with other damages. The lawsuit also asks the court to find the SLPS vaccine mandate unconstitutional.
California Officials Push to Rein in Medical Disinformation — Bill Under Debate May Be Tough to Enforce; Some Say It Restricts Innovation
Frustrated that California has so many physicians spreading false or misleading information about COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, state officials are pushing a bill that would give its licensing agencies specific authority to take disciplinary action.
This type of misinformation would be defined as unprofessional conduct in the bill, which states that “some of the most dangerous propagators of inaccurate information regarding the COVID-19 vaccines are licensed healthcare professionals.”
However, the bill apparently does not cover disinformation stated “on the airwaves or in social media” that a person who is not the clinician’s patient decides to follow, said Eserick “TJ” Watkins, a non-physician member of the Medical Board of California. That provision was edited out of an earlier version of the bill. Furthermore, the bill states that in deciding a case against a doctor, the board “shall consider whether the licensee departed from the applicable standard of care and whether the misinformation or disinformation resulted in harm to patient health.”
If it becomes law, the legislation would further empower the agency to take action against certain physicians, even as at least 14 other states have gone in the opposite direction, considering or passing legislation prohibiting disciplinary actions against doctors who spread misinformation or allowing them to prescribe off-label medications that have failed to show benefit for COVID-19, such as ivermectin.
DeSantis Administration Targets Bucs Over Employee Vaccine Requirement
Officials with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration took to Twitter this week to voice their frustration at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ vaccination requirement for new employees, with Florida’s Department of Health Press Secretary Jeremy Redfern calling a specific job listing illegal.
A Bucs hiring announcement for an in-season video production intern stipulates: “All new hires are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and provide verification of vaccination prior to the commencement of employment. Fully vaccinated means at least two weeks after the final dose of the J&J, Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.”
“This is against Florida law,” Redfern tweeted. Florida law allows private employers to mandate vaccines, so long as they provide individual exemptions allowing an employee to “opt-out” based on one of five carveouts. The carveouts are for those who have medical reasons like pregnancy, those who have already been infected with COVID-19, those who have religious objections, those who agree to periodic testing and those who agree to wearing personal protective equipment.
COVID: Hong Kong to Allow Bosses to Fire Unvaxxed Staff, Quarantine Orders Will Be Proof of Sick Leave
Hong Kong Free Press reported:
Hong Kong lawmakers have passed a bill to allow employers to sack workers who refuse to receive a COVID-19 vaccination without a reasonable excuse, while employees who were ordered to undergo quarantine can now enjoy sick leave.
Members of the Legislative Council (LegCo) approved changes to the Employment Ordinance on Wednesday, which will now state that it is a “valid reason” for an employer to dismiss a worker — or change the terms of the employment contract — if they refuse to present proof of vaccination. A failure to comply with a legitimate vaccination request would be deemed as “incapable of performing work” under the new legislation.
The approved amendment also enables employees who are absent from work owing to their compliance with COVID-19 rules to claim sickness days. People who are subject to a quarantine order, overnight lockdown order or compulsory testing notice are also included.
Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Google and Others Agree to New EU Rules to Fight Disinformation
Tech companies operating some of the world’s biggest online platforms — including Facebook-owner Meta, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Twitch and TikTok — have signed up to a new EU rulebook for tackling online disinformation.
These firms and others will have to make greater efforts to halt the spread of fake news and propaganda on their platforms, as well as share more granular data on their work with EU member states. Announcing the new “Code of Practice on disinformation,” the European Commission said that the guidelines had been shaped particularly by “lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis and Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.”
The code itself contains 44 specific “commitments” for companies that target an array of potential harms from disinformation.
Many U.S. tech firms like Facebook and Twitter have already adopted similar initiatives following pressure from politicians and regulators, but the EU claims its new code of practice will allow for greater oversight of these operations and stronger enforcement.
Beware the FCC’s New Big Tech Enrichment Plan
Is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considering taking action to undermine conservative talk radio in a way that would make Facebook and Google‘s digital monopolies grow even bigger?
The concern arises from a decade-old proposal, called zonecasting, which has sat on the FCC’s desk since the Obama administration. The Democrat-led FCC now appears ready to formally decide on it later this year, and free speech advocates should pray the commission rejects this misguided proposal.
Zonecasting is one of those proposals that may sound good from a soundbite perspective. Those who often get too caught up in theory (such as the unpragmatic “free trade at all costs” extremists who repeatedly struck President Donald Trump‘s ire) may think it is a great idea. But the side effects of zonecasting would be catastrophic, especially for the First Amendment.
It’s Time to Burn Medical Consent Forms
Health data’s potential can be vertigo-inducing, with seemingly limitless insights available to be mined from data sets old and new. The risks, too, can turn the stomach: faulty and biased algorithms; the erosion of privacy; data-driven exploitation. How to explain this to a patient or a potential research subject? Where to even begin?
Apparently, with paperwork. The consent form has traditionally served as a front door to a research project — a summary of what the research is, what participation entails and what the risks are. All of that information is collected and organized in service of a single purpose: getting a reader to agree to participate. It remains a constant in health research, even as an emerging ecosystem of health research asks people to comprehend more than ever.
This new ecosystem asks more of participants. The risks a person may face from research are no longer confined to a fixed study period: data can be retained and reused in ways that may be unknown at a study’s onset. Data communities may create risks even for those who decline to join, upending the basic bargain of health research and informed consent.
Yet the law hasn’t caught up — health research protections in the United States are woefully out of date — and efforts at reforming the consent form have yielded mixed results.