Ad brokers are selling the fact that you visited an emergency room to ambulance-chasing lawyers

Philadelphia's WHYY radio reports that visitors to the city's hospital emergency room are blitzed for weeks with ads for personal injury lawyers, thanks to "geofenced ad" brokerages.

These brokers buy location data from companies that harvest it via location-tracking apps (like the notorious flashlight app that also continuously logged your location); these apps also collect personal identifiers, which are merged with the location data, building a picture of who went where.

This data is turned into a variety of "geofenced ad" products, such as "advertise to people who came near your store" (notoriously, one broker sold "advertise to people who went into Planned Parenthood" services to anti-abortion groups that operated fraudulent "crisis pregnancy centers" that masqueraded as abortion clinics but were actually hard-sell, anti-abortion storefront cons).

The existence of a geofenced ad product is reportedly a boon to personal injury lawyers, who struggle to find ways to target potential clients. By nonconsensually collecting your sensitive health information, the digital advertising broker Tell All Digital is able to help them reach clients with more precision.

In talking to people coming in and out of emergency rooms, one thing becomes clear fast: Some see these kind of targeted ads as preying on people when they are the most vulnerable.

Take Joe Finnegan, 40, of Northeast Philadelphia. He recently had an appointment at a hospital in Center City and says he wouldn't want that fact shared without his knowledge.

"It's supposed to be your privacy as a patient," Finnegan says.

Seeing law firm ads tied to his recent hospital visit, he says, would be enraging, since he had no idea he was crossing into the geotargeted zone.

"I mean, you can't just put a physical fence up, why would you be able to put a cyberfence up?" he says. "I don't get it."

Digital Ambulance Chasers? Law Firms Send Ads To Patients' Phones Inside ERs [Bobby Allyn/NPR]

(via Ars Technica)