Data Brokers and the Sale of Americans’ Mental Health Data

Report by Joanne Kim: “This report includes findings from a two-month-long study of data brokers and data on U.S. individuals’ mental health conditions. The report aims to make more transparent the data broker industry and its processes for selling and exchanging mental health data about depressed and anxious individuals. The research is critical as more depressed and anxious individuals utilize personal devices and software-based health-tracking applications (many of which are not protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), often unknowingly putting their sensitive mental health data at risk. This report finds that the industry appears to lack a set of best practices for handling individuals’ mental health data, particularly in the areas of privacy and buyer vetting. It finds that there are data brokers which advertise and are willing and able to sell data concerning Americans’ highly sensitive mental health information. It concludes by arguing that the largely unregulated and black-box nature of the data broker industry, its buying and selling of sensitive mental health data, and the lack of clear consumer privacy protections in the U.S. necessitate a comprehensive federal privacy law or, at the very least, an expansion of HIPAA’s privacy protections alongside bans on the sale of mental health data on the open market…(More)”.