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Use of online tracking technologies by HIPAA covered entities and business associates

Press releases may be edited for formatting or style | March 21, 2024
The login page of a regulated entity’s patient portal (which may be the website’s homepage or a separate, dedicated login page), or a user registration webpage where an individual creates a login for the patient portal, generally are unauthenticated because the individual did not provide credentials to be able to navigate to those webpages. However, if the individual enters credential information on that login webpage or enters registration information (e.g., name, email address) on that registration page, such information meets the definition of IIHI.30 Therefore, if tracking technologies on a regulated entity’s patient portal login page or registration page collect an individual’s login information or registration information, that information is a disclosure of PHI and is subject to the HIPAA Rules.

Tracking within mobile apps

Mobile apps31 that regulated entities offer to individuals (e.g., to help manage their health information, pay bills) collect a variety of information provided by the app user, including information typed or uploaded into the app, as well as information provided by the app user’s device, such as fingerprints,32 network location, geolocation, device ID, or advertising ID. Such information collected by a regulated entity’s mobile app generally is PHI and the regulated entity must comply with the HIPAA Rules for any PHI that the mobile app uses or discloses, including any subsequent disclosures to the mobile app vendor, tracking technology vendor, or any other third party who receives such information. For example, a patient might use a health clinic's diabetes management mobile app to track health information such as glucose levels and insulin doses. In this example, the transmission of information to a tracking technology vendor as a result of using such app would be a disclosure of PHI because the individual’s use of the app is related to an individual’s health condition (i.e., diabetes) and that, together with any individually identifying information (e.g., name, mobile number, IP address, device ID), meets the definition of IIHI.

However, the HIPAA Rules do not protect the privacy and security of information that users voluntarily download or enter into mobile apps that are not developed or offered by or on behalf of regulated entities, regardless of where the information came from. For example, the HIPAA Rules do not apply to health information that an individual enters into a mobile app offered by an entity that is not regulated by HIPAA (even if the individual obtained that information from their medical record created by a regulated entity). In instances where the HIPAA Rules do not apply to such information, other law may apply. For instance, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act and the FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule (HBNR) may apply in instances where a mobile health app impermissibly discloses a user’s health information.33

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