FTC: Medical Transcription Firm Allowed Histories to Be on Search Engine

The agency announces a data-breach settlement with the California company

A medical transcription company has agreed to settle a U.S. Federal Trade Commission complaint that its inadequate security measures allowed the personal information, including medical histories and examination notes, of thousands of people to be published on the Internet.

The FTC charged GMR Transcription Services, based in California, with allowing, through inadequate security, patients' medical histories and other information to be indexed on an Internet search engine. GMR didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the settlement.

GMR hired contractors to transcribe audio files received from the company's customers, the FTC alleged in its complaint. The contractors downloaded the files from the company's network, transcribed them, and then uploaded transcripts back to the network. GMR then made the transcripts available to customers either directly or by email.

Medical transcript files prepared between March and October 2011 by a GMR service provider were indexed by a major internet search engine, the FTC said in a press release. Some of the files contained notes about sensitive medical information, including psychiatric disorders, alcohol use, drug abuse and pregnancy loss, the FTC said.

GMR's privacy statements and policies said that "materials going through our system are highly secure and are never divulged to anyone." However, the company did not require the individual typists it hired as contractors to implement security measures, such as installing antivirus software, the FTC said.

In addition, a transcribing service used by GMR stored and transmitted the files in clear and readable text on an FTP server that was configured so that they could be accessed online by anyone without authentication, the agency said.

Under the terms of GMR's settlement with the FTC, the company and its owners are prohibited from misrepresenting the extent to which they maintain the privacy and security of consumers' personal information. They also must establish a comprehensive information security program that will protect consumers' sensitive personal information, including information the company provided to independent service providers.

The company must have the security program evaluated every two years for the next 20 years, according to the settlement.

The FTC's settlement with GMR is the 50th data security case the commission has settled since launching its data security program 12 years ago.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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