back to article NHS enables Facebook to track surfers on health info website

Privacy experts have expressed dismay at a decision by the NHS to allow Facebook and Google to track users on one of its sites. The NHS has integrated its NHS Choices site into the Facebook Connect platform, so that surfers can express an interest ("like") for pages on the site and share content with their friends and contacts …


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  1. EddieD

    To paraphrase Mr Jobs...

    "There's an add-on for that..."

    I've just added an add-on, to my already straining Firefox, to block all these third party "like" buttons - for all the "off by default" bromides fed to us, I reserve the right to use belt and braces to hold up my privacy, particularly on a site that handles such sensitive data, particularly where the lining up of anonymous visitors and nonymous tracking data is so utterly trivial, and even more particularly on one of those marvels of the modern programming, the public sector IT project - which normally have more bugs than a tramps backside.

    Thank heavens for add-ons.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Don't be shy

      What's it called?

      1. JP19
        Thumb Up


        I don't know if he's referring to this but RequestPolicy would do the job. It blocks all third-party requests by default.

      2. skila

        Firefox Add On

        Mine is called "Request Policy".

        I find it's almost impossible to view the web when using it because so many sites use content delivery along with tracking and advertising. It's even worse trying to view blogs because people post content from so many different third party sites.

        But for something like this - it was made for that!

  2. NB

    wait what?

    head -> desk



  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    I, for one

    cant effin wait to see the end of facebook and its dog....

    My hatred for it is almost consuming but everywhere i go, i hear about someone who's wronged someone else because of what they wrote/said etc on effin facebook.

    Dear facebbok, please, die, quietly and quickly and may you and your ilk never walk on the face of this planet again...

    Facebook and the NHS, thanks a fucking bunch...

    1. Elmer Phud

      and your point is . . . .?

      Took a few posts before the inevitable bleating.

      You use Facebook? -- hypocrite!

      You don't use Facebook? STFU!

  4. Tom 15

    Blah blah blah...

    Blah, blah, blah, another media fuss about nothing...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      you spelled it wrong

      I think you meant baa, baa, baa. That is a better fit for the sheep.

  5. Dan 55 Silver badge

    This is completely wrong

    A visit to the NHS website should be treated like a visit to the doctor's surgery, i.e. private. Instead data gets pushed out to Google and Facebook. I'm having a hard time thinking of another company which could treat people's personal data worse than these two do...

  6. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    You couldn't make it up

    There's only one icon that fits this. Have the NHS officials completely lost their minds? Did any of them have a mind to lose?

    Why on earth would a web site that provides health advice need a "Like" button? Why would anybody want to share information about their diseases with a horde of Facebook users?

    It sounds like this is another absurd attempt by the public sector to play the trendy vicar.

    1. Chris 3

      I *can* see potential reasons.

      I'm torn on this one. Personally, I think it's fair play to the NHS to consider 'Like' buttons - Using them to spread information of (say) vaccination, or effective ways to help your child cope with chicken-pox seems to a decent way to spread information to groups of highly connected young parents.

      It's not trendy vicaring, it's solid return on investment calculation.

      On the other hard I'm horrified that information is passed to Facebook even without a click on the 'Like' button. That is inexcusable and the reason I opted out of the social plugin as soon as it came out.

    2. Fluffykins Silver badge

      They do have a mind to loose

      Well, they did, but only one and that was left on a bus in Dulwich.

    3. Juillen 1

      What it really sounds like..

      Is someone who doesn't really understand IT, connections, and how things really work..

      Also, sounds like someone hasn't read their Information Governance handbook.. This unadvised sharing of 'identifiable information' is a strict no no, in a VERY big way..

  7. JaitcH

    Health data is so commercially valuable

    There are health credit type bureaus dotted around that collect data about any claim on private insurance be it a procedure, medication or a doctors visit.

    This data is then sold on to life insurers, auto insurers, etc. who use the data to assess an individual for coverage.

    Letting anyone, other than patients or medical service providers, is little less than criminal and the ICO should wade into this one immediately.

    1. thecakeis(not)alie

      The ICO?


      I'm not even from the UK and i know the ICO is a complete joke. The ICO "looking into this" is the quick way to have it de fact certified as "ok."



  8. Azzy

    For anyone who didn't catch this...

    Facebook will still (in most cases) know the user's ID, even if they just get the IP, because unless the user never uses facebook on that computer, all facebook has to do is look up what account normally connects from that IP address, since the vast majority of connections will be from users' home computer.


  9. Graham Marsden

    Miss Charlotte T.Harlotte likes...

    ... Acacia Avenue Genito-Urinary Medical Centre...

  10. John G Imrie

    Does this meen

    I can now 'like' Herpes?

  11. Dave Murray Silver badge

    Data sharing

    "we will still receive their IP address, operating system even if the user is logged out; we just won’t know their User ID"

    What if someone has the sense not to have a Facebook account? Do these Like buttons still send their IP and OS version to Facebook?

    1. thecakeis(not)alie

      @Dave Murray


      *Like* buttons are one of the single most pervasive ways to build up serious analytics for behavioural advertising. Facebook knows as much about you as Google does...

      ...even if you don't facebook.

    2. K T
      Thumb Up


      "What if someone has the sense not to have a Facebook account? Do these Like buttons still send their IP and OS version to Facebook?"

      See title.

    3. KjetilS
      Black Helicopters

      Re:Data sharing

      Yes, I would think so.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    I like Lupus!

    It had to be said.

  13. John Smith 19 Gold badge


    And why?


  14. Grease Monkey Silver badge


    Have the government learned nothing from the BT/Phorm debacle?

  15. Anonymous Coward

    What's in it for them?

    The NHS, I mean. I wouldn't bother knocking Facebook and Google - they're just doing what we've come to expect. But the NHS? Why would they add this functionality unless they were persuaded that it was in their interests?

    Is there a deal on record somewhere, or must we speculate? Idiocy or a back-hander - hard to decide.

  16. Scott Broukell

    eeewww ...

    methinks I'll start an account for the sole purpose of very frequently sharing pages regarding; gonorrhea, granuloma inguinale, syphilis, chancroid, tinea cruris, carb louse and scabies etc etc, guess I'll have lots of 'Friends' that way :-)

  17. Richard IV

    Telling the truth

    "In the same way that the NHS would not share you (sic) data, Facebook would not either."

    And the NHS have effectively shared which users are going where on their portal with Facebook. "The same way" might not mean what you think...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    and of course


    It is against Facebook’s terms to use this data for any purpose other than to create a more personalised experience on the web.


    means we are telling our advertisers that we can target people based on a high probability that they have a medical condition because we're personalising your advertising.

    Facebook's terms ? I am just at a loss for words tainted with despair that people believe that the terms are anything other than serving the best interests of facebook.

  19. dct
    Big Brother

    "technical" information?

    "Facebook can see technical information such as a person’s User ID"

    When did your user ID (and by extension all your personal info associated with it) become "technical information". Sharing your user id is sharing PERSONAL information. Or is your credit card number and pin technical information too?

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Title? You can call me Sir!

    "Our highest priority is to keep people in control of their information on Facebook."

    I laughed so hard I farted.

  21. skila

    Now I can...

    ...put a name to the face. Can't wait to meet her future boyfriends down there too!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    New facebook "hot medical condition of the day"?

    I guess NHS Choices is about to see a very large drop in the number of people searching for medical advice about paranoid mental health issues...

    AC, because, well, you know, they're watching me...

  23. HMcG

    We'll never share your data, except for when we do....


    "In the same way that the NHS would not share you data..."

    But they are sharing your data, with Facebook.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    ... but ...

    .. I'm already getting lots and lots of helpful emails reninding me about how small a certian part of my anatomy is.

    Does this mean I will be getting more helpful emails about my other embarrassing problems?

    AC but what's the point?

  25. Anonymous Coward

    opt out?

    Last sentence of the article says that concerned users "need to opt out of viewing social plugins"... this would be inside Facebook? Where exactly?

    PS Thanks for the tip on Request Policy. I imagine NoScript would have the same effect(?)

    1. William Towle

      Re: opt out?

      "I imagine NoScript would have the same effect(?)"

      Apparently not. The FAQ recommends the use of both, and explains why. See

      // I've got multiple personal accounts on my machine to enforce a degree of separation but am starting to think a review of my minimum list of FF plugins is in order (overdue?) as well :/

  26. Elmer Phud
    Black Helicopters

    El Reg

    El Reg could most likely do the same, your ID is active when you click on 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down'. Easy enough to pull the stats and compare over time to get an idea of the users being Macfanbois, political leaning, how often they comment on sex-based articles, how often they cut and paste Facebook-based comments and so on.

    How do we know they don't do this already and pass the info on to Facebook?

    What with them building baloon-released spy planes etc. I reckon they are actually a part of the security services (or Mormons or Scientologists or CIA or Mossad or (please insert own pet conspiracy thoery here) )

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