Healthcare services provider Novant Health has sent notifications to more than 1.3 million individuals that their protected health information (PHI) might have been inadvertently exposed to Facebook parent company Meta.
Novant Health, which operates a network of hospitals, clinics, and medical facilities, says that the potential data breach was the result of an incorrectly configured tracking pixel that Meta had placed on its website.
The company said the pixel contained code that allows organizations to measure activity on their website, and Novant Health was using the malformed pixel on both its website and the Novant Health MyChart patient portal.
“The pixel was configured incorrectly and may have allowed certain private information to be transmitted to Meta from the Novant Health website and MyChart portal,” according to a notice on Novant Health’s website.
The pixel was added to the portals in May 2020 and was disabled in May 2022, when Novant Health discovered the potential data exposure after a “a reporter called and asked about the use of MetaPixel.”
In June 2022, Novant Health determined that “it was possible PHI might have been disclosed to Meta, depending upon a user’s activity within the Novant Health website and MyChart portal.”
Potentially impacted information included email addresses, phone numbers, computer IP addresses, contact information the patients entered into Emergency Contacts or Advanced Care Planning, appointment information, selected physician, and data such as button/menu selections and/or content typed into free text boxes.
“The information did not include Social Security numbers or other financial information unless it was typed into a free text box by the user,” Novant Health said.
The healthcare services provider says that it does not have evidence that the potentially exposed information “was acted on by Meta or any other third party” and that Facebook’s Terms and Conditions state that policies and filters are in place to block sensitive personal data.
However, Novant Health also says that it has not received a definitive response from Meta regarding the potential data exposure.
Novant Health notified the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that the data of more than 1.36 million patients was impacted in the incident.
“Advertisers should not send sensitive information about people through our Business Tools. Doing so is against our policies and we educate advertisers on properly setting up Business tools to prevent this from occurring. Our system is designed to filter out potentially sensitive data it is able to detect. We’ll continue our ongoing efforts to reach out to Novant,” a Meta spokesperson said, responding to a SecurityWeek inquiry.
*updated with statement from Meta