Cancer, Confidentiality, Privacy, Social media, Social support



  1. Charbonneau, Deborah H. PhD


While online communities for social support continue to grow, little is known about the state of privacy practices of health social networking sites. This article reports on a structured content analysis of privacy policies and disclosure practices for 25 online ovarian cancer communities. All of the health social networking sites in the study sample provided privacy statements to users, yet privacy practices varied considerably across the sites. The majority of sites informed users that personal information was collected about participants and shared with third parties (96%, n = 24). Furthermore, more than half of the sites (56%, n = 14) stated that cookies technology was used to track user behaviors. Despite these disclosures, only 36% (n = 9) offered opt-out choices for sharing data with third parties. In addition, very few of the sites (28%, n = 7) allowed individuals to delete their personal information. Discussions about specific security measures used to protect personal information were largely missing. Implications for privacy, confidentiality, consumer choice, and data safety in online environments are discussed. Overall, nurses and other health professionals can utilize these findings to encourage individuals seeking online support and participating in social networking sites to build awareness of privacy risks to better protect their personal health information in the digital age.