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Your 'secret' online symptom searches actually aren't so secret

Jenni Maier

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Jenni Maier

Jenni Maier is a blog editor living in New York City. More than anything else in the world, she wants a dog. She's jealous of North West's fashion sense and is still upset Tatiana Maslany wasn't nominated for an Emmy. Her goal this year ...

You might want to rethink searching Google about everything that's wrong with your body

In news that has me regretting turning the internet into my personal diary of body ailments, there's news out today that all your symptom-searching isn't staying just between you and Dr. WebMD.

Vice opened up my eyes to this problem in their article on how sites like WebMD share your information with other sites. Obviously not with live status updates like "Jenni Maier is pretty concerned about a red bump that just won't go away," but through their tracking elements.

Their tracking what? I know, I'm not a computer scientist either. Let me have Vice explain:

"Thus, Libert has discovered that the vast majority of health sites, from the for-profit WebMD.com to the government-run CDC.gov, are loaded with tracking elements that are sending records of your health inquiries to the likes of web giants like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest, and data brokers like Experian and Acxiom.

"From there, it becomes relatively easy for the companies receiving the requests, many of which are collecting other kinds of data (in cookies, say) about your browsing as well, to identify you and your illness. That URL, or URI, which very clearly contains the disease being searched for, is broadcast to Google, Twitter, and Facebook, along with your computer’s IP address and other identifying information."

See that there? Your IP address is technically being attached to your searches. While I already knew that everything I do is being recorded somewhere, I somehow never really thought about this aspect of it all. I'm annoyed by the fact that whenever I search to buy something on Google, ads for that something take over my Facebook News Feed ads. I'm downright horrified at the prospect of someone connecting my symptom searches to my name.

I Google every bump, headache, stomach pain and cramp. I then usually proceed to diagnose myself with a deadly disease and spend several minutes debating if I should rush myself to the hospital. In the time between reading my new diagnosis and deciding whether or not to call 911, I usually develop every other symptom I read about. ("Now that you mention it, my hand does feel numb. OMG it's so numb! Do I even have a hand anymore?")

More: This year's top Google searches make 2014 seem pretty darn depressing

Now, in my defense, I did correctly diagnose my appendicitis through the internet. In not my defense, I've also misdiagnosed myself with several blood clots, cancers and rare bacterial infections. So this tracking revelation is definitely going to make me rethink my relationship with the internet. It's not like these are symptoms I go around bragging about. Is it really worth searching every symptom I ever experience if there's a chance that one day it will all be revealed?

My rational side is like, "No one cares enough to ever reveal this information." But my narcissistic side is like, "It will be revealed, and I will be ruined, so I should stop." And finally, my romantic side says, "This is what I get for starting an online relationship with WebMD."

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