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Mass General Brigham Settles ‘Cookies Without Consent’ Lawsuit for $18.4 Million

An $18.4 million settlement has been approved that resolves a class action lawsuit against Mass General Brigham over the use of cookies, pixels, website analytics tools, and associated technologies on several websites without first obtaining the consent of website visitors.

The defendants in the case operate informational websites that provide information about the healthcare services they provide and the programs they operate. Those websites can be accessed by the general public and do not require visitors to register or create accounts.

The lawsuit was filed against Partners Healthcare System, now Mass General Brigham, by two plaintiffs – John Doe and Jane Doe – who alleged the websites contained third party analytics tools, cookies, and pixels that caused their web browsers to divulge information about their use of the Internet, and that the information was transferred and sold to third parties without their consent.

While it is normal for websites to use third-party analytics tools like those on the defendants’ websites, the plaintiffs alleged they were not informed that their information would be collected and transferred and that they did not provide consent to have their data harvested.

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The defendants denied any wrongdoing or liability and maintained the plaintiffs and class members suffered no damages or injuries as a result of visiting the websites. No protected health information was disclosed, there was no data breach, and the defendants denied all allegations in the class action lawsuit; however, the plaintiffs maintained they were prepared to vigorously defend the lawsuit and the decision was taken to settle the case to avoid the costs and uncertainty of a trial and any related appeals.

The settlement names 38 healthcare providers including Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, and covers visitors to the website between May 23, 2016, and July 31, 2021. The $18.4 million settlement will cover attorneys’ fees and other expenses, and class members are eligible to receive a payment of up to $100, based on the number of claims filed.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.