back to article Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers

NHS Inform, Scotland’s answer to the NHS 111 Online health symptom checker website, is calling user tracking elements from Google and Facebook. The trackers from the two American multinational corporations relate to Google’s Tag Manager product, which interfaces with the Google Doubleclick ad network and Google Analytics, and …

  1. Tom Paine Silver badge
    WTF?

    Purpose of collection

    Google Analytics code snippets which can be used to tell the site's managers the number of people coming and going from a particular set of webpages

    Gosh, if only it was possible for web servers to keep some sort of record -- a log, if you will -- that could permit site operators to count the mumber of people coming and going from a particular set of webpages. Oh well, a man can dream I suppose.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Purpose of collection

      The sarcasm is strong in this one!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Purpose of collection

      it would also be amazing if someone could create some sort of Open Web Analytical software to put it into nice graphs for you. I to await the future with anticipation.

    3. Anne-Lise Pasch

      Re: Purpose of collection

      If only there was software to take all these disparate sources of data and let you run reports on it. Analytics, if you will.

      If only the services allowing this didn't spaff your data everywhere else for other purposes...

    4. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      Re: Purpose of collection

      And if only there were a way to test out the effectiveness of changes to the website by, say, giving a small percentage of visitors access to the new version while the remainder go to the tried and tested version.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Purpose of collection

        Or you didn't have to fix what wasn't broken so you wouldn't even need to test.

  2. MiguelC Silver badge
    FAIL

    "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

    Says The Register, while pinging

    …admedo.com

    …doubleclick.net

    …facebook.net

    …google-analytics.com

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

      The crucial difference between the NHS health symptoms checker website and El Reg is...

      1. STOP_FORTH
        Boffin

        Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

        Reg readers are unhealthier than Glaswegians?

        1. albertfandango

          Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

          That starts to look grim for those of us who fall into both of those categories...

          1. STOP_FORTH
            Happy

            Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

            Good point. My father was from Govan, so I think I'll be OK as they don't regard themselves as Keelies for some reason.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

        IT'S A WITCH!!!

        1. Ragarath

          Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

          Thank you AC, that gave me a chuckle as I was reading through the other comments!

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

        One is a helpful guide giving useful information through the internet and the other is the NHS?

      4. JoshOvki

        Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

        El Reg users also care about their digital foot print as well as their actual foot print?

      5. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Dear Vulture

        My sides ache..

      6. 2+2=5 Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

        > The crucial difference between the NHS health symptoms checker website and El Reg is...

        When the health website goes "TITSUP" it might actually be a self-examination technique?

        [That's a white coat I'll have you know.]

      7. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

        "The crucial difference between the NHS health symptoms checker website and El Reg is..."

        Not the point. I am not a Facebook user, so why are you telling Facebook about my visit to your site?

        MEH.

    2. DontFeedTheTrolls Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

      Yeah, but you don't read El Reg to find out about the dangers of Viruses you may have contracted and the spreading of such infections around your population

      1. 's water music Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

        Yeah, but you don't read El Reg to find out about the dangers of Viruses you may have contracted and the spreading of such infections around your population

        I don't but my friend has a few questions about an embarrassing medical complaint.

    3. devTrail

      Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

      Not only, as other people noted, the content here is much less sensitive. But if there is a complex navigation tree each page can tell something about the answers given by the user. If you add that as usual people navigate on the site while somewhere else they are (or they were) logged in to gmail, facebook or similar the identity can be also verified by correlating the IPs.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

        Since they are going down this route, the least they could do is provide a link to eBay Canada so that Scots have a choice of cheap drugs to bid on.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

          The Scots get their drugs(prescriptions) without charge.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

            "The Scots get their drugs(prescriptions) without charge."

            To be pedantic, people living in Scotland get their prescriptions free. Scots who live in England and Wales have to pay.

            1. FatGerman

              Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

              Not in Wales they don't. It's only the privileged English who get the opportunity to contribute towards Civil Service salaries, sorry, NHS funds, by paying for their prescriptions.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

                I stand corrected. Didn't realise Wales had free prescriptions too. If only I lived thirty miles further west :-(

          2. Chris G Silver badge

            Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

            Without charge? Didn't know that.

            In Spain we get whatever drug is necessary regardless of cost at the standard prescription charge, the NHS limits the cost so won't prescribe many expensive drugs even though they do a better job. At least that is what I am told by a senior nursing sister, I have yet to visit a doctor here, though most of the expats I talk to have good things to say about the system here.

            1. LeahroyNake Bronze badge

              Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

              In Wales you can also get a private prescription from an accredited nurse of doctor (after paying them) and pay for the cost of the POM (pharmacy only medicine) at the pharmacy. It is amazing how much some of it costs!

              I think it's more astonishing what people outside the UK can purchase direct from a pharmacy without going through a doctor. Some of the stuff would get you in serious trouble if you were caught with it in the UK without it being prescribed.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

      doubleclick, facebook and google-* are all blocked at my firewall so good luck pinging them

      memo to self

      add admedo.com to firewall rules.

    5. LeahroyNake Bronze badge

      Re: "Scots NHS symptom checker pings Facebook, Google and other ad peddlers"

      Not on my browser. Nope. Apparently they dont exist...

  3. oiseau Silver badge
    FAIL

    Unclear?

    ... remains unclear as to why the NHS Inform site is loading content from adservice.google.com, metadsp.co.uk and Facebook Pixel ...

    Unclear? Really now ...

    Check the key words: adservice, google, metadsp and Facebook.

    I think it's really very clear.

    O.

    1. devTrail

      Re: Unclear?

      Do you mean that it is clear that a government web site is getting advertising revenues? Who within the government organisation is collecting the money? Is it reported anywhere? Is it accounted for?

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Unclear?

        Who within the government organisation is collecting the money

        Maybe a couple of guys in a small room next to the server room? "It's for our retirement, Gov.".

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Unclear?

      "I think it's really very clear."

      Absolutely. They've just announced an official tie-up with Amazon's Alexa, and they didn't want to accused of favouritism so they invited everyone else along for the ride.

  4. NATTtrash
    Meh

    Is this really that new?

    After all, as study already showed begin 2019, this is pretty much <sarcasm>standard</sarcasm> on health and other less sensitive (*cough* politics *cough*) websites...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    if I block the tracking bits

    will the core of the NHS service still work?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: if I block the tracking bits

      depends if you have a virus.

  6. Daedalus Silver badge

    Typical bureaucratic crassness

    Of course they outsource the creation of these websites. Do you think even Scots myrmidons have the ability to do it themselves?

    The question is: do Google et al pay off the third-party website creators to add all this spycruft? It would explain why it crops up everywhere.

    1. joeW

      Re: Typical bureaucratic crassness

      "do Google et al pay off the third-party website creators to add all this spycruft?"

      Not in my experience, no. Usually added by client request (probably because it gives them some pretty visuals to wow their senior management with).

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Typical bureaucratic crassness

        "Not in my experience, no. Usually added by client request (probably because it gives them some pretty visuals to wow their senior management with)."

        Back in the day when I built and managed a few website, I just had a script to pull the logs down daily and ran Webalizer on them to produce pretty graphs for those who wanted them.

        Is that not the sort of granular information the data fetishists want these days?

  7. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Megaphone

    NHS 24 said that “all data is anonymised”

    Bollocks. If you're logged into Google or Facebook (some people do, I hear...) and browse that website, they've just found out what medical/insurance ads to target you with.

    There are two possibilities, either lying or incompetence, which is it this time?

    1. Psmo

      Re: NHS 24 said that “all data is anonymised”

      Why can't it be both?

    2. unimaginative

      Re: NHS 24 said that “all data is anonymised”

      I cannot see the anonymizeIp setting for Google Analytics in the page source. Does anyone know whether it can be turned off without having that? Its a while since I last did it and I cannot remember what the options were.

      IN any case they are loading a lot of stuff from other Google sites and a lot of other places so your IP is going to be revealed anyway. We know that FB, for one, tries to track users on other sites

    3. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: NHS 24 said that “all data is anonymised”

      "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity"

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NHS 24 said that “all data is anonymised”

    There is no such thing as "anonymised" data when combined with Facebook and Google's databases.

    Anyone claiming this is totally ignorant of technology or is lying through their teeth.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NHS 24 said that “all data is anonymised”

      You beat me by less than 5 seconds with our near IDENTICAL posts Dan.

      (I was the Anonyomus Coward that has a crappier broadband connection apparently)

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: NHS 24 said that “all data is anonymised”

        Broadband worse than mine? That's called dial-up.

        1. herman Silver badge

          Re: NHS 24 said that “all data is anonymised”

          Morse? Smoke Signals?

          Dialup is quite fast actually.

  9. msknight Silver badge
    Unhappy

    So...

    "We identify unique visits, but not individuals"

    To do that, they must be recording IP's, which ... didn't someone somewhere recently determine that the IP was personally identifiable information?

    https://www.whitecase.com/publications/alert/court-confirms-ip-addresses-are-personal-data-some-cases

    ..well, they could do cookies, I suppose.

    1. MJB7 Bronze badge

      Re: personally identifiable information

      No. IPs are not PII - but PII is a term of art in the American data protection (using the phrase loosely) scheme. As you linked, IPs *can* be "Personal data" - which is what GDPR refers to.

      1. Ragarath

        Re: personally identifiable information

        wtf?

        You said it's not PII but can be personal data. If it is personal data it can be used to identify you so it must be PII?

        1. Mike 137 Bronze badge

          Re: personally identifiable information

          "PII" is not a defined term under the GDPR. Personal data as defined in the regulation need not be able to identify you on its own, but may do so if accumulated with other information (also not necessarily able to identify you on its own). And none of it need put a name to you to be subject to the requirements of the GDPR. Consequently a web access history tied to a single IP address may be personal data if it's unique (as it probably will be) even if no action is taken to attach a name to the IP address.

          Consequently, just for example, facebook widgets on multiple independently hosted web pages might create a browsing profile at facebook that would constitute personal data under the regulation - indeed, depending on the context of the pages viewed, even sensitive personal data requiring data subject consent under Article 9. The nature of the site in question here could quite possibly cause such a profile to fall into this category.

          It should be borne in mind by any site owner authorising or allowing allowing such automated tracking that they probably become a joint controller with the tracking organisation, and thereby jointly responsible with that organisation for any breach of the regulation, and it would be no defence to assert ignorance on the basis that web site creation was outsourced.

          So if any one of these trackers were to breach your rights under the regulation, the Scottish NHS would be jointly liable, and remember that it's your human rights under the European Convention that are protected, not just your GDPR rights in respect of the data.

  10. herman Silver badge
    FAIL

    I tried the online service, but it doesn't recognize having pain in the diodes going down my left side.

  11. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    The Scottish Approach to Service Design

    "Ah, Hamish. You'll have had your tea?"

    I'm unable to guess what distinctively Scottish attributes might be designed into a service.

    1. STOP_FORTH
      Trollface

      Re: The Scottish Approach to Service Design

      Properly engineered by proper engineers?

      (No kilt icon available.)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Scottish Approach to Service Design

      They just add the magic word "Scottish" because they can't be seen to be doing the exact same thing as the neighbours, no, no, no...

      ...a very very similar thing, with a quick lick of tartan paint, perhaps, but not at all the same thing, you understand.

      And it keeps a few more civil servants needlessly busy (and paid) while they go through this process, of course.

      (In the interests of equality, a similar process has sometimes been known to occur in a southwards direction, when Scotland came up with the idea first.)

  12. dnicholas Bronze badge

    Read the title as Scots NHS scrotum checker... Now there's a job that will make you feel better about your own lot

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I feel a grumpy letter to my MSPs coming on

    I feel a grumpy letter to my MSPs coming on, and I would recommend fellow citizens of Scotland to do likewise.

    Thanks for highlighting this: I have noticed so much similar spyware on many health/govt websites, but have never got around to complaining (not least because, before data privacy started to become a big thing over the past couple of years, few politicians would even have understood what quite what the issue was).

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