Costco accused of sharing users’ health data with Meta

Costco allegedly shared website users’ private communications and health information with Facebook-parent Meta without their consent, a lawsuit filed Friday said.

The lawsuit filed in Washington Western District Court alleges Issaquah-based Costco used Meta Pixel, a code that allows companies to track visitor activity on their websites, in the health care portion of its website. The tracking pixel would allow Meta to have access to users’ personal and health information.

“Costco represents to patients that its website, which includes its pharmacy webpages, is a secure platform,” said the suit, which is seeking a class-action status. “Yet, Costco fails to disclose or omits the fact that it shares patient online activities and personal health information with Meta via Pixel.”

Costco’s executive vice president of administration Patrick Callans said in an email Monday that the company won’t comment on pending litigation. The retailer has not filed an answer in court. 

Meta, which is not named as a defendant in this lawsuit, said in a statement its system can filter out sensitive data.

“Advertisers should not send sensitive information about people through our business tools,” Meta said Monday. “Doing so is against our policies and we educate advertisers on properly setting up business tools to prevent this from occurring.” Costco is considered a Meta advertiser.

Costco’s pharmacy services include prescription refills, vaccine scheduling and home delivery. For users to sign up for the pharmacy services, they need to give Costco personal and health information. According to the lawsuit, Costco says it keeps the information secure and private, but using tracking services including Pixel violates the privacy.

“By secretly recording and transmitting data to Meta — without the user’s knowledge or consent — Pixel acts much like a traditional wiretap,” the lawsuit said.

Costco also violated users’ privacy because it let Meta collect communications related to health care from its website, according to the lawsuit. The information included prescriptions, treatments, health insurance coverage and patient location. Meta would then be able to monetize on that information by selling ads to insurance companies seeking to market to the customers tracked from Costco’s website, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit was filed by four California residents who used Costco’s pharmacy services and communicated sensitive information while on the website. The four have Facebook accounts, the lawsuit said.

Health care data is a coveted commodity, according to the lawsuit. 

Last month, Virginia Mason was sued for allegedly placing tracking pixels that shared patients’  identifiable information and communications with third parties including Facebook and Google. In February, the Federal Trade Commission ordered telehealth and prescription drug discount provider GoodRx to pay $1.5 million and stop sharing user data for advertising purposes with Facebook, Google and other companies.

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