A U.S. federal judge has ruled that Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, must confront a lawsuit accusing them of breaching the medical privacy of patients treated by healthcare providers employing the Meta Pixel technology. Judge William Orrick of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco affirmed that the plaintiffs have grounds to pursue claims against Meta for violating federal wiretap laws, infringing on a California privacy statute, and reneging on contractual assurances regarding user privacy on Facebook.
In a decisive 26-page ruling on Thursday, Judge Orrick emphasized that the evidence presented thus far fails to disprove “plausible allegations that sensitive healthcare information is intentionally captured and transmitted to Meta.” While dismissing some other claims, Orrick ruled that the plaintiffs, who have chosen to remain anonymous under the aliases John Doe or Jane Doe, may attempt to amend and refile them.
The lawsuit contends that Meta Pixel illicitly transmitted sensitive health data from patient portals, aiming to generate revenue through targeted advertising. It seeks unspecified damages for all Facebook users whose data was acquired by Meta. Meta, in response, acknowledges the potential gravity of transferring sensitive health information but maintains that its technology is not inherently malevolent. The company asserts that the onus lies on healthcare providers to dictate the appropriate usage of the Meta Pixel tool.
Judge Orrick countered this argument, stating that it remains unclear whether Meta took adequate measures to halt the transmission of personal health information or whether they can be absolved due to the consent granted by healthcare providers. Additionally, he acknowledged “detailed and plausible allegations” suggesting that the transmission of such information was integral to Meta’s advertising services.
The case, officially docketed as *In re Meta Pixel Healthcare Litigation*, will proceed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, under the case number 22-03580. In 2020, lawyers for one of the plaintiffs disclosed the identification of 664 hospitals and healthcare providers utilizing Meta Pixel. The Meta lawsuit underscores the pressing concerns surrounding medical privacy in an increasingly data-driven digital landscape. Meta Platforms now joins the ranks of other data-tracking entities confronting legal challenges over the unauthorized collection and transmission of personal data, underscoring the urgent need for heightened regulation of such firms to safeguard consumer privacy.