Commission Alleges Exposure of Medical and Other Sensitive Information Over Peer-to-Peer Network
The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against medical testing laboratory LabMD, Inc. alleging that the company failed to reasonably protect the security of consumers’ personal data, including medical information. The complaint alleges that in two separate incidents, LabMD collectively exposed the personal information of approximately 10,000 consumers.
The complaint alleges that LabMD billing information for over 9,000 consumers was found on a peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing network and then, in 2012, LabMD documents containing sensitive personal information of at least 500 consumers were found in the hands of identity thieves.
The case is part of an ongoing effort by the Commission to ensure that companies take reasonable and appropriate measures to protect consumers’ personal data.
LabMD conducts laboratory tests on samples that physicians obtain from consumers and then provide to the company for testing. The company, which is based in Atlanta, performs medical testing for consumers around the country. The Commission’s complaint alleges that LabMD failed to take reasonable and appropriate measures to prevent unauthorized disclosure of sensitive consumer data – including health information – it held. Among other things, the complaint alleges that the company:
- did not implement or maintain a comprehensive data security program to protect this information;
- did not use readily available measures to identify commonly known or reasonably foreseeable security risks and vulnerabilities to this information;
- did not use adequate measures to prevent employees from accessing personal information not needed to perform their jobs;
- did not adequately train employees on basic security practices; and
- did not use readily available measures to prevent and detect unauthorized access to personal information.
The complaint alleges that a LabMD spreadsheet containing insurance billing information was found on a P2P network. The spreadsheet contained sensitive personal information for more than 9,000 consumers, including names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, health insurance provider information, and standardized medical treatment codes. Misuse of such information can lead to identity theft and medical identity theft, and can also harm consumers by revealing private medical information.
P2P software is commonly used to share music, videos, and other materials with other users of compatible software. The software allows users to choose files to make available to others, but also creates a significant security risk that files with sensitive data will be inadvertently shared. Once a file has been made available on a P2P network and downloaded by another user, it can be shared by that user across the network even if the original source of the file is no longer connected.
“The unauthorized exposure of consumers’ personal data puts them at risk,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC is committed to ensuring that firms who collect that data use reasonable and appropriate security measures to prevent it from falling into the hands of identity thieves and other unauthorized users.”
The complaint also alleges that in 2012 the Sacramento, California Police Department found LabMD documents in the possession of identity thieves. These documents contained personal information, including names, Social Security numbers, and in some instances, bank account information, of at least 500 consumers. The complaint alleges that a number of these Social Security numbers are being or have been used by more than one person with different names, which may be an indicator of identity theft.
The complaint includes a proposed order against LabMD that would prevent future violations of law by requiring the company to implement a comprehensive information security program, and have that program evaluated every two years by an independent, certified security professional for the next 20 years. The order would also require the company to provide notice to consumers whose information LabMD has reason to believe was or could have been accessible to unauthorized persons and to consumers’ health insurance companies.
The Commission vote to issue the administrative complaint and notice order was 4-0.
Because LabMD has, in the course of the Commission’s investigation, broadly asserted that documents provided to the Commission contain confidential business information, the Commission is not publicly releasing its complaint until the process for resolving any claims of confidentiality is completed and items in the complaint deemed confidential, if any, are redacted.
NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The issuance of the administrative complaint marks the beginning of a proceeding in which the allegations will be tried in a formal hearing before an administrative law judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
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