A new investigation shows that 12 of the nation’s largest pharmacies are sharing some sensitive health information with social media companies including contraception and HIV tests according to nonprofit news publication The Markup and KFF Health News, a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues.
The report said that the pharmacies, including Albertsons (including ACME and Safeway), Costco, CVS, Food Lion, Giant, Kroger, Publix, Rite Aid, Sam’s Club, Stop & Shop, Walgreens, and Walmart, share what some consumers are buying on their websites.
These sites have trackers, or “pixels,” that gather data on what consumers are browsing and buying before that information is shared with Meta, Google, and Microsoft.
Specifically, some sites include when a shopper looks at or buys *plan-B* emergency contraception, pregnancy tests, HIV tests, and prenatal vitamins. A similar investigation by ProPublica found that some of these pharmacy websites that sell abortion pills were also sharing that information with Google and other third-party sites.
In response to the investigation, some of the pharmacies listed commented on plans to cut back on their tracking, some put ownership on the third-party companies for not saving or misusing the data collected by the trackers, and many did not respond or refused to comment.
In the U.S., drugstores and grocery stores with pharmacies are only partially covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. Prescriptions picked up from the pharmacy counter do have this protection. However, in a separate section, typically called the pharmacy aisle, stores also often sell over-the-counter medications, tests, and other health-related products.
Consumers might think aisle purchases have similar protections to their prescriptions, but HIPAA only covers the pharmacy counter’s clinical operations, such as dispensing prescriptions and answering patients’ questions about medication, the investigation said.
Kroger spokesperson Erin Rolfes said the company strives to be transparent and that “In many cases, we have provided more information to our customers in our privacy notices than our peers.”